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Written Testimony of POGO's Danielle Brian, for the National Ombudsman Hearing, Hosted by Congressman Jarrold Nadler on Environmental Testing and Cleanup at Ground Zero

A week after the September 11th attacks, Christine Todd Whitman of the EPA announced that the environment was safe around the World Trade Center site. Yet, tens of thousands of people who live and work near Ground Zero are now suffering from respiratory ailments, including thousands of firefighters and police officers working at the site.

Weeks after the EPA gave the site a clean bill of health, it was discovered that they weren't telling the whole story. In fact, only the test results showing clean air were released to the public while the test results showing elevated levels of dioxin, PCBs, lead, and chromium in the air, soil, and water were deceptively withheld until late October. Independent tests also found increased levels of asbestos and fiberglass.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigates, exposes, and seeks to remedy systemic abuses of power, mismanagement, and subservience by the federal government to powerful special interests. Founded in 1981, POGO is a politically-independent, nonprofit watchdog that strives to promote a government that is accountable to the citizenry.

As a government watchdog, POGO has often found reason to investigate past EPA decisions which put American lives and health at risk. Unfortunately, the implementation of negligent health and safety decisions has been a long-running pattern at the EPA, spanning administrations.

Another unfortunate consistency among EPA administrators, has been their continuing efforts to weaken and eliminate the independent office of the National EPA Ombudsman, the only EPA office which can independently investigate citizen complaints against EPA actions.

The current ombudsman, Robert Martin, has been a vocal critic of many EPA actions that do not adequately protect the public. Communities near Superfund sites in Uniontown, Ohio, Denver, Colorado, and Throop, Pennsylvania, among others, depend on Ombudsman Martin to ensure that the government doesn't unjustifiably employ the cheap or easy method for clean-up rather than the right one. Given EPA's track record, these communities are not likely to get a fair shake without the involvement of the ombudsman's office.