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New EPA Program Leaves Questions Unanswered

Monday, March 26, 2001 at 5:21 AM

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The Environmental Protection Agency is implementing a new air toxins study program here in Cleveland. Last week, the Agency's top official showed up to talk about the project. But many community leaders left the event with more questions than answers. 90.3's Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin- 82-year-old Gladys McGrew lives on East 47th Street in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. She’s been here for about fifty years. When she moved in, it was mostly a residential neighborhood. But now, across the street from her tidy two-story home, the Safeway autobody shop loud speaker barks out the business of the day. Trucks from another shop sit idle in a driveway next door.

Gladys McGrew- This used to be a place that made small parts.

JB- According to the Cleveland Bureau of Air Pollution Control, more air pollution complaints came from McGrew’s neighborhood last year, than from any other ward in the city.

It’s because of activists like McGrew that the U.S. EPA chose St. Clair Superior as one of the neighborhoods that will take part in a new air toxins study to begin this year. After much debate between neighborhoods, EPA also chose Broadway-Slavic Village for the pilot project.

The study aims to reduce toxic urban air pollution from small industries like metal plating and dry cleaning operations within a year. The cooperative effort will be headed up by an official from EPA’s Region 5 in Chicago. It will be facilitated by Cleveland State University professor Sanda Kaufman.

Last week, EPA Chief Administrator Christie Todd Whitman visited Cleveland to talk about the new program

Christie Todd Whitman- Cleveland’s air toxic program is a pilot. It is a way to help us lead the way in how to work with communities, how to give people the information they need to make decisions about their own communities.

JB- Although Whitman’s visit was touted as a discussion session with community leaders to be included in the air toxins study, she took only one question from the crowd before she left. It was from Virginia Aveni, manager of environmental planning for the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. Aveni questioned the scope of the program. She says local officials need more help with enforcement, not with finding sources of pollution.

Virginia Aveni- My concern is that this is a cop out for a regulatory program. When in fact citizens are not empowered to protect themselves from the major polluting sources in the environment.

JB- Rev. Marvin Smith of the St. Claire Superior Coalition is excited about the new program, and believes it will improve the city’s air quality. But after Whitman’s visit, he left a bit disappointed.

Marvin Smith- Initially I didn’t think they really said a whole lot about the program itself, and that’s what I thought I was expecting to hear - when an actual outline, layout of the program, and I don’t think that was really too well defined.

JB- Keven Snape with the Clean Air Conservancy says worries that the program is too ambitious. He agrees with Smith that air toxins study remains vague, even after Whitman’s visit.

Keven Snape- We show up at the press conference, we have a lot of people who are hard to get together, they all show up, and she takes one question and they she has to leave and that question she largely passed off on a local Cleveland official.

JB- Whitman defends the program. She says the EPA controls more than 180 air toxins known to cause cancer and other sickness, but this study will allow citizens to make even more improvements in air quality.

CTW- This is not an effort for the EPA to come in and start mandating solutions to problems. It’s starting to go beyond what we already do mandate and clean air standards.

JB- While officials work to implement the program, Gladys McGrew lives with the consequences of small industry in her neighborhood, and hopes for change.

GM- It’s all talk. When I see something, then I’ll believe it.

JB- The EPA is dedicating $500,000 to the pilot program. It will likely stay here and extend to other neighborhoods, as well as other cities across the country. The first community stakeholder’s meeting hasn’t been set yet. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN.

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