It is no secret that when the World Trade Center towers collapsed six years ago, thousands of tons of asbestos fibers were released into the air and it has been having a devastating effect on the health of many New Yorkers in all five boroughs, not just Lower Manhattan. Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, pointing out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had already misled first responders and ground zero workers about the safety of the air, accused the agency of engaging in a “second cover-up.” “People in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City and Queens are still being poisoned,” he said. Aerial photographs of the buildings after their collapse indicated that the smoke and dust traveled across Brooklyn from the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
The EPA arranged for cleanup in nearby neighborhoods, but plans to expand the program into Brooklyn and northern Manhattan were dropped in 2005 because an independent panel rejected the agency’s criteria for determining levels of contamination. Of the $140 million provided to New York residents for health and cleanup assistance through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Brooklyn residents received only $5.5 million–whereas residents of the Bronx, which was not in the path of the dust cloud, received nearly $10 million. Meanwhile, asthma complaints in Brooklyn have increased by 240% over the past six years. A 2003 survey by the EPA indicated that 25% of all the homes in Brooklyn had been contaminated by dust and debris from the collapse of the World Trade Center. The focus now should be on tracking people, according to Kwa-Cheung Chan, a former assistant inspector general with the EPA. “It’s like when you dirty the water, a few years later you start to see mercury in the fish…why don’t we look at the fish rather than the water.” On the other hand, Brooklyn deputy president Yvonne Graham points out that after five years, human remains are still being found on building rooftops and other places. She comments, “If the bones are still there, why do we assume that the asbestos and the lead are not?”