Title Page Previous Next Contents | Part 2. The day after: How officials responded >Interior environments

Interior environments


A significant vacuum here was that the agencies didn’t address the hazards right under people’s noses—in interior spaces—as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the congressman whose district includes the neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero, would charge in congressional hearings months later.


Photo: EPA

A significant vacuum here was that the agencies didn’t address the hazards right under people’s noses—in interior spaces—as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the congressman whose district includes the neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero, would charge in congressional hearings months later.

The dust in people’s apartments came up as an issue, early on, Touw says. “Within the first few days, someone at the Red Cross was worried about windows blown in with debris and dust,” he says. “So someone asked, ‘Steve, is EPA going to clean for people?’ Typically, though, we don’t clean people homes—unless there’s a mercury spill or pesticides misapplied, although Superfund could under certain circumstances come in.”

However, says Touw, had the city asked for this federal response within the first few days, it could have gotten 100 percent reimbursement. So he did ask the city, he says.


“If we had to do it all over again, we should have made sure it got done. It would have been a huge project, but [doing interior cleanings] would have been easier to do early on than after the fact.”

Having asked Kelly McKinney, however, he says, the decision came back, “’No, we were not going to be cleaning buildings, and this was to be the responsibility of building owners.’ Instead the city Department of Environmental Protection would address the dust on exteriors of buildings. “If there was a public complaint, the city could then address.”

“In hindsight,” says Touw, “I think we could have done a better job. If we had to do it all over again, we should have made sure it got done. It would have been a huge project, but [doing interior cleanings] would have been easier to do early on than after the fact.”

By law, though, it is a local decision, Touw reiterates. “Setting the record straight, though, we became the whipping boy for senators and congressmen, when it was up to the city to make the decision. Why did the city make that decision? There was a lot of political decision making in play. The city and state had the resources and equipment, but they just needed to pay overtime.”

It would take many months even for the experts to begin to assess the risks of the type of pollution event that occurred at the World Trade Center.

And when the anthrax crisis hit a few weeks later, government agencies would call on all resources at their disposal. For example, by October, some 58 Coast Guard Strike Team members managed by the National Strike Force Coordination Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., would deploy to the WTC Site, Washington, D.C., and Boca Raton, Fla., to assist other agencies with response as a result of terrorist attacks.

It would be the first time in the Coast Guard Strike Force’s history that they would be assisting in the mission of biohazard cleanup. EPA asked the Strike Force, specialists in emergency and chemical response to help with monitoring the air, overseeing contractors and washing stations in New York at Ground Zero and the Staten Island evidence collection site.