Cyrus Dugger

The “Safety is Too Expensive Business Model:” Your NYC Homes, Offices & Schools

In the final phase of its response to the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the beginning of a $7 million program to test indoor spaces in Lower Manhattan. “It is time to begin this final phase in EPA’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “We hope that the program will provide peace of mind to people who live and work in Lower Manhattan.”- EPA Press Release 12/06/2006

I think the EPA’s hope might be more attainable had it not waited until more than five years after the 9/11 attacks to begin an effective WTC dust indoor cleaning program in NYC. While the EPA slowly developed and implemented this “final” program, the residents of Lower Manhattan, and possibly some parts of Brooklyn have been exposed to toxic WTC dust through the indoor contamination of their homes, office buildings, and schools.

Moreover, even this program, implemented five years after the attacks, is not actually comprehensive and ignores many of the recommendations of groups that commented on a draft of the plan (click here for access to the critique of the initial draft).

The current plan fails to include any testing for Brooklyn, or for “inaccessible areas” within homes such as behind or on top of cabinets.” As observed by the report critiquing the initial proposal:

“Less frequently cleaned and inaccessible areas: We oppose EPA’s plan to disregard test results
from “inaccessible” areas in the decision-making for cleanup. The two examples that EPA cites
as “inaccessible” areas are “behind or on top of cabinets.” In reality, such locations are not
inaccessible, but rather low contact or less frequently cleaned locations. Contamination that
may accumulate in these areas can be disturbed by activities such as cleaning, moving furniture,
removing items from tops of cabinets, and/or remodeling/renovations.” (link)

On Tort Deform I have written a great deal about the inadequacies of the federal state and city governmental response to the environmental impact of the 9/11 attacks. In short, this slow governmental response was not just slow for the sake of slowness, or simply because of the abstract inefficiencies of government bureaucracy, but was slow because of the adoption of a safety is too expensive business model by these governmental entities. As I’ve described in detail before on Tort Deform, safety is too expensive business model involves five important steps

Of course, government agencies don’t really make profits, but they sometimes adopt this model in order to save money that they might otherwise have to spend.
In my previous post 9/11 & The Safety Is Too Expensive Business Model I explain step by step how the governmental response fits this model, which focuses on the money that the city and federal government initially saved from not conducting a comprehensive cleanup.

As the recent discovery of a large amount of human remains in Downtown Manhattan underscores, the initial outdoor cleanup was far from complete. However, more problematic still is the woefully insufficient indoor cleanup program that has endangered the health and wellbeing of unknown hundreds or thousands of downtown Manhattan residents, and potentially many Brooklyn residents as well.

In short, the EPA and city health officials did not implement a comprehensive indoor cleanup program of the WTC contaminants released in the attack because they did not want to be stuck with the large bill that this cleanup would require.

After Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) held hearings on the health hazards triggered by the terror attacks, the EPA and the city launched a program to clean up people’s apartments, ultimately cleaning more than 4,000 apartments in lower Manhattan. But that program left out the cleanup of schools, offices, workplaces, shops and businesses — and that’s only the beginning of how “wholly inadequate” the program was, Nadler told MSNBC. “The program was limited to an area south of Canal Street, as though there were a Star Trek force field blocking out the rest of Manhattan and other places, like Brooklyn, where we know the toxic plume traveled,” says Nadler. The EPA tested and cleaned individual apartments only when people asked, and generally left out central air systems and common areas. “How can you clean one apartment, and not the one next to it?” Nadler asks. Apartments were tested for only one pollutant: asbestos. The testing method used excluded active testing, which uses a fan to kick up the pollutants lurking in carpets, drapes and corners, unless applicants opted for the most aggressive cleanup, which prohibited the resident from being present (and, some say, discouraged many people from signing up). Jo Polett, who lives 6 blocks from the trade center site, however, insisted on supervising her job, and made the contractor turn on the “active” test fan when he didn’t even know to. With effort, she learned that her apartment was contaminated with heavy metals, such as antimony and lead (with the lead reading five times the EPA’s standard). Had she opted for “testing only” — which tested only asbestos — she might never have found that out. Polett, who speaks softly with her new whispery voice, blames her respiratory problems on the toxic dust trapped in her building’s ventilation system. (link)

Perhaps the strongest underscore of this point is that the “EPA tested its own offices downtown with more stringent methods.”

Moreover, landlords had to give permission for common areas to be cleaned and tested, and if your apartment was in a contaminated building, it’s likely to have become re-contaminated after your individual apartment was cleaned.

There’s so much more to say here, and I will be saying it over the next couple of weeks…..

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Posted at 10:20 AM, Dec 08, 2006 in
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EPA seems to have removed (or moved) the document you linked to in your 3rd paragraph: "Moreover, even this program, implemented five years after the attacks, is not actually comprehensive and ignores many of the recommendations of groups that commented on a draft of the plan (click here for access to the critique of the initial draft)."

I wonder why?

Posted by: Jonathan Bennett | December 9, 2006 5:21 PM