updated 12/14/2005 9:11:55 AM ET 2005-12-14T14:11:55

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that it will go forward with a plan to test inside some lower Manhattan buildings for World Trade Center dust, despite criticism that the program does not go far enough.

The final meeting of the EPA’s technical panel, more than four years after the Sept. 11 attack, showed that distrust remains from the early days when then-EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman assured New Yorkers that the air was safe to breathe.

The EPA released its plan Nov. 29 for testing any dust that remains in private homes and commercial space from the collapse of the trade center.

The $7 million effort covers roughly south of Canal Street in Manhattan. Tests will be conducted for asbestos, lead and other substances that could pose health risks unless they are cleaned up.

The EPA official who has chaired the technical panel, Timothy Oppelt, said the plan “incorporates the best science available.”

But during Tuesday’s meeting, other panel members, residents and labor advocates derided the plan for its geographic focus, its testing methodology and the fact that it is voluntary.

“The plan excludes entire neighborhoods known to have been impacted by the dust cloud, the fires that burned for months and the barge waste transfer operations,” said Catherine McVay-Hughes, the downtown community liaison to the panel.

Oppelt said the EPA would start recruiting people to participate in the testing program early next year.

“We put a lot of hard work into this and believe that it’s a plan that goes as far as the agency can go with its legal responsibilities and mandates and goes as far as the current scientific information will allow it to go,” he said after the meeting.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a fellow Democrat whose district includes the trade center site, said last week they would ask the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to probe concerns similar to those raised at Tuesday’s meeting.

Clinton said the EPA’s testing plan “is incredibly frustrating and disappointing” because it does not expand the area tested earlier, or test workplaces or sites the agency has already cleaned.

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