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Investigator: EPA not properly testing WTC air

One of the agency's own says EPA providing false info

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) chief investigator has accused the EPA and other government agencies of deliberately not testing the air quality in the World Trade Center area properly and possibly covering up the reasons why.

"I believe EPA did not do that because they knew it would come up not safe and so they are involved in providing knowingly false information to the public about safety," said Hugh Kaufman, chief investigator for the EPA's Ombudsman Office, at a public hearing Saturday with scientists, residents, and small business owners.

"Not just EPA, the state and the city, too," he said. "We also had testimonies that all the agencies -- local, state, and federal -- have been consorting together every week to discuss these issues."

Kaufman has said earlier this month that he believes the air quality at Ground Zero is worse than the EPA will admit, and that he believes the agency has been misleading the public about the inherent risks for residents and workers in the area.

Dust unsettled

When two hijacked airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center September 11, the resulting fire weakened the structures and they collapsed in a billowing cloud of dust, concrete, asbestos, lead, fiberglass and PCBs.

Scores of rescue workers and residents who live near the disaster site have complained of respiratory problems, and many say they believe something in the air from the collapse of the buildings is making them sick.

The EPA has maintained its testing shows safe air quality levels at and around Ground Zero.

Saturday's hearing at the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan was held at request of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a West Side Democrat whose district includes the Trade Center site. He said it's the first time none of the government agencies involved with the EPA's ombudsman hearings has sent a representative.

"It's remarkable. Either they have something to hide or they don't give a damn," said Nadler.

"The reason for the the absence of the government agencies, I believe, is because they are participating on a cover-up," said Kaufman.

Although employed by the EPA, Kaufman has been an outspoken critic of the agency. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman issued an order in November to dissolve the ombudsman's position.

Also attending the meeting was EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin, who is investigating testing methods used by the agency.

Dr. Thomas Cahill, of the University of California at Davis -- who performed air quality measurements in Lower Manhattan -- testified the surgical masks used by workers and residents in the area do not sufficiently protect against certain particles found in the air. (Read more about Cahill's appearance at Saturday's hearing.)




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