Officials downplay risks of pollution near Ground Zero
From Brian Palmer
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Asbestos, fiberglass, benzene, dioxin, freon. All these pollutants and toxins were released into the atmosphere when the World Trade Center towers imploded and their remains burned.
After New Yorkers absorbed the shock of the tragedy, they started worrying about the long-term health effects, especially those who live near Ground Zero.
Government authorities responsible for monitoring air, water and soil say pollutant levels in the area still climb to hazardous levels some days. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls it "the most dangerous work site in America."
But beyond Ground Zero, they say the worst days are probably over.
"The further you get from the site, the data does not demonstrate significant risks to people," said William J. Muszynski, acting regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Asthmatics and those with respiratory problems are at greater risk for health damage than the average New Yorker, said Dr. Regina Santella of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
"All of the environmental data taken from the site really has been low, and so for the most part there really is nothing to worry about," Santella said.
But environmental watchdogs said they aren't so sure.
"It's not safe, and what's proof of this is that medical clinics have diagnosed people with occupational asthma already and other respiratory problems, people that not only work down there but live down there," said Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project.
Kupferman filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get data about the EPA's monitoring of pollutants, data that the EPA said he takes out of context.
"I think you can sensationalize -- I mean, I think you can look at the numbers, a spike, and believe that number is overly significant," the EPA's Muszynski said. "Most of what we do is based on long-term exposure."
But even experts admit there's no way to know for sure what the long-term effect of exposure to these pollutants will be.
Air quality concerns hover over ground zero
October 1, 2001
CDC, EPA: Little risk to public from sites
September 14, 2001
Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
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