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Professor says air at ground zero may not be as safe as EPA has indicated

NEW YORK (AP) _ The air around the World Trade Center disaster site may not be as safe as the Environmental Protection Agency has suggested, a professor who has analyzed the dust and smoke testified at a hearing Saturday.

Thomas Cahill, a University of California at Davis professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric science, said the EPA had the technology and resources to test the air for ultra-fine particles but did not.

Asked whether he could say the air around ground zero was safe without performing such tests, Cahill responded, ``The word `safe' is a difficult word.''

Cahill said a person with a health condition, such as asthma, might be more adversely affected by the air than a healthy person.

``I hope this will trigger the EPA to do the measurements,'' Cahill said of the hearing, which was chaired by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler at the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

In an interview Saturday, EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow said the additional testing wouldn't have helped.

There is no federal health standard for particles that are ultra-fine, or smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, and measuring them would have provided no useful information about the possible effects of breathing the air near ground zero, she said.

Cahill said that in mid-September he began to suspect that the collapse had produced fine particles, which he said could contain the same carcinogens and toxins feared to be in the air around the trade center. He said high temperatures, such as the months-long fires that burned at ground zero, also can produce the fine particles.

Cahill said the EPA has had the technology to test for the ultra-fine particles since 1996 and measures for them at nuclear sites.

Nadler, whose congressional district includes the trade center site, accused the EPA of failing to safeguard public health by proclaiming downtown safe without doing any indoor testing of businesses or apartments.

``It is absurd that the EPA has claimed publicly that it doesn't have the legal authority to do necessary environmental tests and remediation in response to the World Trade Center attacks when it has clearly done residential work throughout the country,''' Nadler said. ``Why is New York being treated differently?''

Mary Perillo, a downtown resident who said she had to move out of her apartment because of the mess, said residents aren't getting enough help from the federal government or city agencies. She said residents need federal aid to help offset thousands of dollars in cleaning costs.

``I had to throw out everything,'' said Perillo. ``It was all contaminated.''
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