The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and World Trade Center (WTC) collapse blanketed Lower Manhattan in dust from building debris. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an indoor clean and test program from 2002 to 2003. In 2003, EPA's Inspector General (IG) recommended improvements to the program and identified lessons learned for EPA's preparedness for future disasters. In 2004, EPA formed an expert panel to, among other goals, guide EPA in developing a second voluntary program; EPA announced this program in 2006. As requested, GAO's report primarily addresses EPA's second program, including the (1) extent to which EPA incorporated IG and expert panel member recommendations and input; (2) factors, if any, limiting the expert panel's ability to meet its goals; (3) completeness of information EPA provided to the public; (4) way EPA estimated resources for the program; and (5) extent to which EPA has acted upon lessons learned regarding indoor contamination from disasters.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||To enhance EPA's ability to provide environmental health risk information to the public that is complete and readily understandable, the Administrator of EPA should facilitate the implementation of the recently issued Crisis Communication Plan by issuing guidance that, among other things, ensures the presentation of environmental data in an appropriate context, with appropriate technical caveats noted in plain language.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||To provide decision makers with a sound basis for the Stafford Act funds needed for future disaster response programs, the Administrator of EPA should establish guidelines for developing program cost estimates. These cost estimates should support the programs' objectives and promote the efficient and effective use of government resources.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||To ensure that EPA is better prepared for future disasters that involve indoor contamination and that it captures important information that could guide future cleanup decisions, the Administrator of EPA should, in concert with the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Labor, and other appropriate federal agencies, develop protocols or memorandums of understanding under the National Response Plan that specifically address indoor contamination. These protocols should define when the extent of contamination is to be determined, as well as how and when indoor cleanups are to be conducted. EPA should seek additional statutory authority if it determines that such additional authority is necessary.|