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Context of 'September 14, 2001: Majority of Dust Samples near Ground Zero Said Not to Contain ‘Levels of Concern for Asbestos’'

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With the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the scope of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) is extended to cover hazardous substance releases in addition to oil spills. (Environmental Protection Agency 12/23/2004) The NCP is a component of the US government’s National Response System, “a multi-layered system of individuals and teams from local, state, and federal agencies, industry, and other organizations that share expertise and resources to ensure that oil spill control and cleanup activities are timely and efficient” and that threats to human health and the environment are minimized. (Environmental Protection Agency 4/19/2004) When in effect, the plan is administered by the EPA, which is required by law to follow specific procedures and guidelines, including designating an “On-Scene Coordinator” (OSC), who is responsible for directing response efforts and coordinating all other efforts at the scene of a discharge or release. In the event that the EPA delegates any tasks to state or local authorities, the EPA is responsible for ensuring that the response is in accordance with EPA standards. (US Code, Vol. 40, sec. 300; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

The EPA issues a final rule outlining new requirements for asbestos abatement projects. The rule notes that even at low concentrations, asbestos is not safe: “Available evidence supports the conclusion that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos…. This conclusion is consistent with present theory of cancer etiology and is further supported by the many documented cases where low or short-term exposure has been shown to cause asbestos-related disease…. Most occupational studies have been conducted on populations exposed to high airborne concentrations of asbestos for long periods of time. However, short-term exposures have also been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, there are many documented cases of mesothelioma linked to extremely brief exposures to high concentrations….” (Environmental Protection Agency 4/25/1986 pdf file; Jenkins 6/9/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues its Interim Asbestos NESHAP Enforcement Guidance on “Friable Asbestos,” which clarifies the definition and acceptable use of “asbestos-containing” materials. The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), issued in 1973, defined “asbestos-containing materials,” or ACMs, as products that contain more than 1 percent asbestos by weight. Citing the original document, the guidance explains that NESHAP’s purpose was to “ban the use of materials which contain significant quantities of asbestos, but to allow the use of materials which would (1) contain trace amounts of asbestos that occur in numerous natural substances, and (2) include very small quantities of asbestos (less than 1 percent) added to enhance the material’s effectiveness.” However, the guidance stresses, the “EPA NESHAP definition of 1 percent by weight was not established to be a health-based standard.” (Stewart 4/18/1989 pdf file)

NESHAP regulations require use of the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) method to determine whether asbestos-derived wastes are asbestos free: “Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shall be used to analyze the output material for the presence of asbestos.” In order to be considered “asbestos-free,” TEM results must indicate that the waste contains no asbestos. (US Code, Vol. 40, sec. 61.155) The TEM method is far superior to polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing, a less expensive method that is often used to test for the presence of asbestos in bulk building material. The PLM method is limited by relatively weak magnification (100-400x) and it is sometimes unable to distinguish asbestos material from other materials like tar and petroleum binding components that may also be present in the building material. As a result of these deficiencies, the PLM method cannot reliably detect asbestos at concentrations of less than 1 percent and it is incapable of detecting asbestos fibers that are less than .25 micrometers in width. (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file) TEM uses 20,000X or greater magnifications as well as powerful chemical (EDXA) and mineralogical (SAEDP) tools. Not only can TEM differentiate asbestos from non-asbestos fibers, but it can also distinguish one species of asbestos from another. (International Asbestos Testing Lab 1/12/2006)

The EPA issues a pamphlet answering common questions on the Asbestos NESHAP regulations (see April 18, 1989). One question asks: “Is there a numeric emission limit for the release of asbestos fibers during renovations or demolitions in the asbestos NESHAP regulation?” The EPA answers that although there is no numeric emission limit, NESHAP “does specify zero visible emissions to the outside air from activity relating to the transport and disposal of asbestos waste.” In other words, if any emissions are visible during transport or disposal, the level of asbestos is unsafe. (Environmental Protection Agency 12/1990)

The Federal Response Plan (FRP) is developed and becomes Public Law 93-288. The FRP provides “a process and structure for the systematic, coordinated, and effective delivery of Federal assistance to address the consequences of any major disaster or emergency declared under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.” The plan can be called into action by the president of the United States in times of emergency. Once invoked, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the efforts of any Emergency Support Functions (ESF) involved. In the event of a hazardous materials release, the EPA is charged with overseeing the federal government’s response. The Federal Response Team (FRT) and Regional Response Teams (RRTs) are charged with “carry[ing] out their duties and responsibilities as put forth in the NCP [National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan] (see 1972) and agency implementing procedures.” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 8/1997)

A study of the health effects of vermiculite mining, a mineral which is sometimes found with asbestos (as in the case of the vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana (see November 18, 1999)), finds that soils with an asbestos level of only 0.001 percent can result in air concentrations of 0.01 fibers per milliliter (f/mL), if disturbed. This exceeds the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL, the typical background levels of asbestos in outdoor air of 0.000002 f/mL, and the typical background levels in indoor air of 0.000003 f/mL (PCM). (Addison-Lynch 6/1995; Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file; Agency for Toxic Substances And Disease Registry 10/9/2003)

The current version of OSHA Regulation 1910.1001, “Polarized Light Microscopy of Asbestos—Non-Mandatory,” recommends the use of “transmission electron microscopy” (TEM) to test for the presence of asbestos instead of the older, less sensitive method, known as “polarized light microscopy” (PLM). The regulation notes that “TEM is a powerful tool to identify fibers too small to be resolved by light microscopy and should be used in conjunction with this method when necessary” and suggests that “when optical techniques [PLM] are inadequate, there is ample indication that alternative techniques [TEM and SEM] should be used for complete identification of the sample.” SEM, or “Scanning Electron Microscopy,” is another method that provides less analytical information about the asbestos fiber than TEM. (US Code, Vol. 29, sec. 1910.1001)

The EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) discover more than 1,100 homes in Jackson County, Mississippi that were sprayed with methyl parathion illegally by Reuben Brown, an unlicensed exterminator. The EPA designates the homes as Superfund sites and oversees a $50 million cleanup. More than 1,600 people will be relocated during the cleanup. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/11/1998; Rubin et al. 12/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

The EPA designates more than 98 homes in the Chicago area as a Superfund site. The homes had been illegally sprayed with the pesticide methyl parathion by Reuben Brown, an unlicensed exterminator. The homes are decontaminated at a cost of around $7.5 million. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 9/30/1999 pdf file; Rubin et al. 12/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that at least 192 deaths and 375 incidents of fatal lung disease in Libby, Montana were caused by exposure to tremolite asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine. The mine was operated by the company W.R. Grace Co. for 30 years until it was sold in 1990 to Kootenai Development Co. (Schneider 11/18/1999)

Three days after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on asbestos contamination of homes in Libby, Montana (see November 18, 1999), the EPA dispatches an emergency response team to conduct tests to determine the level of asbestos contamination. For decades, local, state and federal agencies had ignored the known hazards at the Libby mine. (Schneider 2/2/2000; Schneider 9/15/2000) Twenty-three of the 73 outdoor air samples the EPA team will take at various locations in Libby are found to contain elevated levels of tremolite—a type of asbestos that is extremely carcinogenic due to its needle-like and sharply pointed fibers which easily penetrate the lining of the lungs. (Schneider 2/2/2000) Random air sampling inside the homes of Libby residents reveals that 11 to 23 percent of the selected homes have detectable levels of asbestos. The average level of asbestos inside Libby homes is found to be 0.0024 fibers per milliliter (f/mL), which exceeds many times the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL. (Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

The EPA issues a publication which states that in the event of a terrorist attack causing the release of hazardous substances, the EPA would respond under the authority of the NCP (see 1972). “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has statutory authorities and responsibilities to prepare for and respond to emergencies involving oil and hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants, which include chemical, biological and radiological materials that could also be components of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)…. EPA carries out its preparedness and response efforts primarily under the mandate of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) and the Radiological Response Program.” (Environmental Protection Agency 5/2000 pdf file)

The EPA posts a “questions and answers” page about asbestos and the EPA’s Libby investigation (see November 21, 1999) on its website. It includes only one question: “I recently read that EPA found less than 1 percent (or trace levels) asbestos at Fireman’s Park and other locations that were sampled. Is that a safe level?” The EPA responds that levels of “1 percent or less may be safe” under certain circumstances, but notes that it “could present a risk where there is enough activity to stir up soil and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne” (see 1995). (Environmental Protection Agency 6/18/2001)

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issues its “Annual Report to Congress on Combating Terrorism” which reaffirms the EPA’s responsibility to respond to any hazardous materials emergencies caused by terrorist attack and provide the affected public with all information relevant to their health and safety. The report observes that the EPA has “expertise in performing off-site monitoring, extent of contamination surveys, working with health officials to establish safe cleanup levels, conducting protective cleanup actions, and communicating technical information/data to impacted citizens…” Moreover, the OMB notes that “EPA’s first responders (On-Scene Coordinators or OSCs) from all 10 regions have been actively involved with local, State, and Federal authorities in responding to threats of terrorism,” and that “EPA’s response to such threats is an extension of its existing hazardous materials response capability developed over more than 30 years as a leader of the National Response System (see 1972).” (Office of Management and Budget 7/2001 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002)

The EPA sets up more than 30 fixed air-quality monitors in and around Ground Zero as well as regional monitors in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to test for the presence of certain contaminants. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/9/2005) More than 30 such air monitors are also positioned at various locations in the Staten Island Landfill, where the WTC debris will be taken. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/9/2005) Additionally, both the EPA and OSHA operate portable sampling equipment to collect data from a variety of other surrounding locations. (Environmental Protection Agency 6/4/2002 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency 3/23/2005; Environmental Protection Agency 3/25/2005) The equipment, however, does not test the air for fiberglass, a common building material and a known carcinogen (Occupational Hazards 1/25/2002) , or mercury in airborne dusts (although they do test for mercury in its vapor state). (Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) Critics will argue that monitoring outdoor air is insufficient since it will ultimately be diluted because of wind and diffusion—unlike indoor air, which clings to fabrics and is trapped within walls. (Kazan-Allen 1/21/2002) Aside from a few exceptions (see September 13, 2001-September 19, 2001), the EPA will use the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method for counting asbestos fibers instead of electron microscope technology (see September 12, 2001) which provides far more accurate results. (Schneider 2/28/2001; Schneider 1/14/2002)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 office in Edison, NJ, dispatches three On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) within minutes of the first plane crashing into the WTC Tower. (Meagher and Stapleton 10/21/2001) The OSCs are job functions specific to the National Contingency Plan (NCP) and therefore indicate that the NCP is in effect and that the EPA is acting under its authority. The OSCs will be involved in the agency’s response to the disaster at least until October 2002. (Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) But the EPA will imply in later statements and documents that the NCP had not been put into effect after the attacks (see August 21, 2003).

A dust sample is taken by EPA employees as they flee the collapsing buildings. The samples are later tested and found to contain an asbestos level of 4.5 percent. (France and Check 9/14/2001; Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 9/14/2001)

EPA Region 2 decides that it will use a benchmark of 1 percent in determining whether the asbestos level found in outdoor dust samples collected in and around the WTC site constitutes a “level of concern.” The figure apparently derives from the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) (see April 18, 1989), which defines products containing more than 1 percent asbestos by weight as “asbestos-containing materials” (ACM). The NESHAP one percent definition is not based on safety, but rather is the detection limit of the Polarized Light Method (PLM) for determining asbestos levels (see August 23, 1996 and see November 20, 1990). The EPA will be heavily criticized for selecting this percentage as its “level of concern” benchmark. Critics will argue:
bullet The one percent value is arbitrary because it is not based on safety. Furthermore, it was meant to be applied only to solid asbestos-containing products that do not release emissions (like dust).
bullet As the EPA has previously acknowledged, there is no safe exposure level to asbestos (see April 25, 1986) (see April 18, 1989).
bullet Measuring dust by percentage weight does not allow one to accurately assess the risk to public health because it does not determine the number of asbestos structures in a given area. For example, a sidewalk coated with 4 inches of dust containing .5 percent asbestos is much more of a health risk than a tablespoon’s worth of dust on the ground containing 2 percent asbestos because the former obviously has many more structures of asbestos. A person walking on the street would inhale more asbestos fibers walking through the 4 inches of asbestos-contaminated dust than stepping on just the tablespoon’s worth. (Jenkins 6/9/2002 pdf file) In fact, the EPA has previously acknowledged in an official statement to the public that levels “of 1 percent or less could present a risk where there is enough activity to stir up soil and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne” (see June 18, 2001). Additionally, a study in 1995 on the health effects of vermiculite found that soils with an asbestos level of only 0.001 percent can result in air concentrations of 0.01 fibers per milliliter, which exceeds many times the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL (see 1995) that corresponds to a cancer risk factor of 10

EPA Region 2 hires an industrial hygienist to test the lobby of its building at 290 Broadway St. for the presence of asbestos. The building is located 6 blocks northeast of the World Trade Center site. Some of the settled dust samples collected with a micro-vac and analyzed using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) reveal the presence of chrysotile asbestos. Light microscope tests are also used to analyze the dust, but these tests turn up negative. (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) Air monitoring also reveals the presence of asbestos:
bullet 20 s/mm (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)
bullet 20 s/mm (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)
bullet 60 s/mm (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)
bullet 60 s/mm (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file) The discovery of asbestos at the building prompts EPA Region 2 to have the building professionally abated. (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) The EPA later states that micro-vac collection of dust samples (one of the preferred methods of obtaining samples) and TEM testing are not necessary for schools and residences in Lower Manhattan. At 105 Duane Street, the EPA will even discount results obtained by micro-vac collection and TEM tests when they contradict the agency’s own results (see December 3, 2001). (Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler 4/12/2002 pdf file; Carlton 5/9/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)

EPA and OSHA announce that the majority of air and dust samples monitored in New York’s financial district “do not indicate levels of concern for asbestos” and that ambient air quality “meets OSHA standards.” The two agencies also say that OSHA has new data indicating that indoor air quality in downtown buildings “will meet standards.” The agencies’ conclusions are based on samples taken on September 13. “OSHA staff walked through New York’s Financial District… wearing personal air monitors and collected data on potential asbestos exposure levels. All but two samples contained no asbestos.… Air samples taken… inside buildings in New York’s financial district were negative for asbestos. Debris samples collected outside buildings on cars and other surfaces contained small percentages of asbestos, ranging from 2.1 to 3.3—slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material.” (Occupational Safety and Health Administration 9/14/2001) But the EPA improperly implies that the one percent level is a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)), even though it had previously acknowledged that airborne asbestos particles are unsafe at any level (see September 14, 2001). Furthermore, its test results are not accurate, as they are based on the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method, which is incapable of identifying fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when it is present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990).

EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman says with regard to Manhattan’s air quality, “[T]here is no reason for concern.” She says that her agency is regularly sampling airborne particles and that findings indicate that most locations have an asbestos level of less than one percent—the amount above which the EPA considers a material to be “asbestos-containing”—but notes that the highest recorded reading so far was 4.5 percent (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. September 11, 2001)). (Kugiya 9/16/2001) But the EPA is wrong to use the one percent level as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Furthermore, its test results are not accurate, as they are based on the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when it is present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990).

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) issues recommendations for people reoccupying commercial buildings and residences. (New York City Department of Health 9/17/2001)
Recommendations -
bullet The NYC DOH advises residents not return to apartments or workplaces south of Warren Street, west of Broadway, and north of Exchange Street, until the buildings have been approved to resume tenancy by building management.
bullet The DOH recommends that people wear dust masks upon re-entering their indoor areas. After indoor spaces have been cleaned as per instructions, it should not be necessary to wear dust masks.
bullet The advisory recommends that residents and people working downtown clean homes and offices using “a wet rag or wet mop.”
bullet Additional suggestions include shampooing and vacuuming carpets and upholstery with a HEPA vacuum or a normal vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. The recommendation is made despite two studies completed for the EPA in 1993 demonstrating that HEPA vacuums do not effectively remove asbestos from carpets and upholstery (see 1993) and that vacuuming actually increases asbestos levels in the air during use (see 1993).
bullet The advisory recommends that residents filter the air in their homes with HEPA air purifiers.
bullet NYC DOH instructs residents to “wash heavily soiled or dusty clothing or linens twice” and remove “lint from washing machines and filters in the dryers with each laundry load.”
bullet The recommendations say that if the “apartment is very dusty,” curtains should be washed or HEPA vacuumed. “If curtains need to be taken down, take them down slowly to keep dust from circulating in the air,” it adds.
bullet Residents are advised to bathe pets “with running water from a hose or faucet.” The advisory adds that “their paws should be wiped to avoid tracking dust inside the home.”
bullet The advisory also states to “[k]eep outdoor dust from entering the home” by keeping the “windows closed” and setting the “conditioner to re-circulate air (closed vents).”
bullet The advisory repeats earlier assertions that air monitoring indicates levels of airborne asbestos fibers detected in outside air does not pose a significant threat to human health. “Based on the asbestos test results received thus far, there are no significant health risks to occupants in the affected area or to the general public,” the agency claims. The DOH’s recommendations are criticized by industrial hygienists and other experts. The advisory is criticized for failing to mention that the “dust” inside these homes could possibly contain asbestos and other toxic substances and for neglecting to inform people that stringent national statutes regulate asbestos removal, requiring professional abatement of materials or dust that contain asbestos or other hazardous substances. US statutory code does not permit unlicensed individuals or contractors, much less residents, to perform asbestos removal. (New York City Department of Health 9/16/2001 pdf file; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 pdf file; Carlton 5/9/2002 pdf file; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) In spite of these problems, the EPA website will link to the notice. (Schneider 2/10/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) and refer people to it who email the agency with questions about the safety of indoor air (see After November 1, 2001) (see After November 10, 2001). Some people, however, never even learn of this advisory and—after hearing repeated assurances from officials about safe environmental conditions—clean their indoor spaces as they otherwise would under normal conditions. (Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler 4/12/2002 pdf file) Residents who do hire professional cleaners will find that their homes are still not safe. In November, American Medical News reports numerous doctors in NYC are seeing patients with respiratory conditions. “Their apartments were covered in dust, and have since been professionally cleaned” Ira Finegold, MD, chief of allergy at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, will say. “But they return, and after 20 minutes, they’re developing a raspy cough.” (Elliott 11/26/2001)

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that results from further air and drinking water monitoring near the WTC site and the Pentagon indicate that there are few significant risks to public health. “We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances,” she says. “Most” of the 62 dust samples taken by the agency contained less than one percent of asbestos. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/18/2001) The EPA incorrectly uses the one percent level of ambient asbestos as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Moreover, the test results Whitman cites are based on the less sensitive and outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine asbestos fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Whitman’s statement also observes that where asbestos levels have exceeded the EPA’s one percent “level of concern,” the “EPA has operated its 10 High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) vacuum trucks to clean the area and then resample.” She adds that the trucks have also cleaned the “streets and sidewalks in the Financial District in preparation for… return to business.” (Environmental Protection Agency 9/18/2001) However, it is later discovered that the contractor hired to clean the streets failed to equip the vacuum trucks with the required HEPA filters. (Bazinet 8/14/2002; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman assures New Yorkers that environmental conditions in Manhattan—both inside and outside—are safe, and provides a summary of the tests that have so far been performed on the city’s air and drinking water.
Water - Whitman says: “As we continue to monitor drinking water in and around New York City, and as EPA gets more comprehensive analysis of this monitoring data, I am relieved to be able to reassure New York and New Jersey residents that a host of potential contaminants are either not detectable or are below the Agency’s concern levels. Results we have just received on drinking water quality show that not only is asbestos not detectable, but also we can not detect any bacterial contamination, PCBs or pesticides.” She does say however that “following one rainstorm with particularly high runoff, we did have one isolated detection of slightly elevated levels of PCBs (see September 14, 2001).”
Outdoor air - Whitman says that outdoor air sampling does not indicate the existence of significant public health risks. This claim is based on results obtained using the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see September 12, 2001) which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Even though Whitman denies a significant risk to public health, she does say “seven samples taken at or near Ground Zero have had marginally higher levels of asbestos that exceed EPA’s level of concern,” and that her agency has “done a total of 101 dust samples, of which 37 were slightly over the one percent asbestos.” Whitman does not mention that the EPA’s “level of concern” is not a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)) but rather the detection limit of the polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see November 20, 1990).
Indoor air - Whitman claims, “New Yorkers and New Jerseyans need not be concerned about environmental issues as they return to their homes and workplaces.” But the EPA has no data indicating that indoor air is actually safe. The only indoor tests that have been conducted by the EPA were in the EPA’s Region 2 offices located in the Federal Building and a few neighboring buildings—and the results from several of these tests were positive for chrysotile asbestos (see September 13, 2001-September 19, 2001). (Environmental Protection Agency 9/21/2001; Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler 4/12/2002 pdf file)

An EPA press release summarizes the agency’s response to the September 11 attacks under its authority pursuant the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972). (Environmental Protection Agency 9/24/2001)

EPA Region 2 says at least four times, and the New York City Department of Health and Environmental Protection at least once, that they are using a protective standard under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) to determine whether indoor and outdoor air pose a threat to public health. They assert that the standard is regularly used to determine whether it is safe for school children to return to school buildings after asbestos has been removed or abated. According to the agencies, the standard designates an asbestos level of 70 or fewer structures per square millimeter as safe. (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file) For example, on a page explaining its “benchmarks, standards and guidelines established to protect public health,” the EPA states: “In evaluating data from the World Trade Center and the surrounding areas, EPA is using a protective standard under AHERA, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, to evaluate the risk from asbestos in the outdoor and indoor air. This is a very stringent standard that is used to determine whether children may re-enter a school building after asbestos has been removed or abated…. To determine asbestos levels, air filters are collected from monitoring equipment through which air in the school building has passed and viewed through a microscope. The number of structures—material that has asbestos fibers on or in it—is then counted. The measurements must be 70 or fewer structures per square millimeter before children are allowed inside.” (Environmental Protection Agency 3/31/2005) But according to Title 40, part 763.90, of the Code of Federal Regulations, the 70 s/mm (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file) Instead, AHERA sets as the EPA’s cleanup goal an exposure level which scientists have determined has a risk level lower than the EPA’s maximum risk level of 10 (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency 1/5/2006) The significance of the two agencies’ misstatements cannot be overstated as the 70 s/mm (Jenkins 3/11/2002 pdf file)

The decision to reopen Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan is made based on tests of indoor air samples taken by the EPA. Two EPA “On Scene-Coordinators” (OSCs) (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001) are present at the meeting and participate in the decision-making. One of the OSCs is Charlie Fitzsimmons. (Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002)

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insists that New Yorkers living and working near the World Trade Center site are not in danger. “The vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero,” she says, repeating what earlier EPA statements have asserted. Downplaying the danger of those areas where higher asbestos levels have been found, she states—falsely (see April 18, 1989) (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) —that “EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are set many times below the level at which you would expect health impacts.” She advises New Yorkers who live or work in the affected areas to “follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly (see September 17, 2001).” (Environmental Protection Agency 11/1/2001) Another expert, Dr. Jessica Leighton, assistant city health commissioner for environmental risk assessment, similarly states that people living and working in Lower Manhattan have little to worry about. She says in response to a question whether or not “people are safe at the present level” of contamination: “As far as the science has shown us right now, that is absolutely correct.” Like Callahan, she claims that EPA standards are overly protective. “The standards or tolerance levels that are being used are very conservative,” she claims. “For example, for asbestos, we are using the standard that is used for indoor air quality for reentry into a school after asbestos removal, which is the most stringent standard, as the tolerance level or standard for outdoor air quality in the residential areas. This is also true for other substances, such as dioxins, identified at the perimeter of the site…. Moreover, these standards have been designed to include many safety factors so that acceptable levels of exposure are far below the levels at which health effects are expected to occur.” (New York City Department of Health 11/1/2001) Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, questions the accuracy of Leighton’s and Callahan’s statements and accuses them of withholding some test results. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathryn Freed, a New York City Council Member who represents Lower Manhattan, said she was not convinced by agency assurances, noting that firemen are already showing symptoms of emphysema, a terminal disease for which there is no cure. “Just because it doesn’t reach a certain level is really irrelevant when people are sick,” says Marc Ameruso, a member of the area’s community board. (Cardwell 11/1/2001)

The EPA will repeatedly claim that it does not have jurisdiction or oversight over indoor tests or cleanups of residences and businesses. Critics who disagree note that:
bullet The EPA’s response to the 9/11 attacks were coordinated under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001), which requires that when the EPA delegates any tasks to state or local authorities, the agency ensures that their responses are in accordance with EPA standards (see 1972). Therefore, according to the NCP, the EPA does have jurisdiction over inside air.
bullet Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, the EPA commenced the abatement of homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation had contaminated the surrounding area (see (August 2001)). Libby asbestos remediation commenced under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP). (Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) In Libby, the highest level of asbestos found in a home was 3,658 structures per square centimeter (s/cm (Chatfield and Kominsky 10/12/2001 pdf file; Lyman 1/11/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) In December, the EPA will “fast-track” the Libby site to a place on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site after a request from Montana’s governor (see December 20, 2001). In New York, Governor Pataki will make no similar request for the areas affected by World Trade Center collapse. (Kupferman 2003 pdf file; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)
bullet The EPA is taking responsibility for the indoor environmental conditions at numerous contaminated sites across the US, including at Herculaneum, Missouri; McFarland, California; and Kellogg, Idaho. (Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler 1/7/2002)
bullet The EPA has decontaminated more than 1400 homes and businesses in Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio after the buildings were illegally sprayed with the pesticide methyl parathion (see January 1995) (see April 1997) (see November 1996).

Walter Mugdan, the EPA’s regional counsel, disputes allegations (see November 15, 2001) that EPA employee Cate Jenkins recently made against the agency in a memo. Jenkins claimed that EPA officials “effectively waived” the EPA’s “strict national regulations for removal and disposal of asbestos contaminated dust.” Mugdan argues that Jenkins “assumes that they [the regulations] apply to the cleaning up of dust in residential or office buildings in Lower Manhattan.” According to him, “When they were written, they were never intended to apply to something like a terrorist act. These regulations apply to owners and operators of a facility who are carrying out a demolition or renovation. They were never contemplated to apply to someone cleaning an apartment.” (Gonzalez 11/20/2001 pdf file; Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler 1/7/2002) In response to Mugdan’s claim, Jenkins says, “This is not an academic or scientific argument. Our regulations are very specific. They don’t allow you to do this. We’ve had a breakdown where the federal EPA and the city are scrambling to get everything back to normal, and they’re ignoring the law.” (Gonzalez 11/20/2001 pdf file) Mugdan’s assertions are contradicted by the fact that the EPA has recently removed asbestos from private homes in Libby, Montana and has tested for, and removed, other types of hazardous materials in other regions of the US (see After November 1, 2001). (Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler 1/7/2002) Furthermore, in May 2000 (see May 2000), the EPA affirmed that in the event of a terrorist attack, the EPA would respond under the authority of the NCP (see 1972) —which binds the EPA to the very rules Mugdan’s claims would not apply.

After the New York City Department of Health tests Tribeca Tower at 105 Duane Street for asbestos and finds nothing, the building’s residents contact Attorney Joel R Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) for assistance. Certified industrial hygienist, Ed Olmstead, collects dusts samples for Kupferman using a micro-vac. Analysis is conducted using the highly sensitive transmission electron microscope (TEM) method. The tests results reveal high concentrations of asbestos. A sample taken from a hallway ventilation duct that circulates air throughout the building is found to contain 550,000 structures of asbestos per square centimeter. When confronted with these results, the EPA claims the hygienist’s testing method was unsound and that the results were an aberration. The landlord of the building, citing EPA and DEP assurances that the test results could be ignored, refuses to appropriately abate the building. (Jenkins 12/3/2001 pdf file; Haughney 1/8/2002; Kupferman 2003 pdf file; Lustgarten 8/15/2003)

Montana Governor Judy Martz announces that she will use the Silver Bullet option to fast-track the designation of Libby, Montana (see (August 2001)) as an EPA Superfund site and put it on the National Priorities list. The designation makes Libby eligible for special funding from industry sources. (State of Montana 12/20/2001; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)

Joe Martyak, spokesman for EPA in Administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s office, tells MSNBC that “indoor air is beyond EPA’s jurisdiction.” (Lyman 1/11/2002) Martyak’s assertion is contradicted by recent EPA activities and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see After November 1, 2001).

Bonnie Bellow, spokeswoman for the EPA’s region II office in New York tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the EPA is not responsible for testing homes and businesses. “That’s not our job and we have no policies or procedures for doing that type of testing,” she claims. “We’ve never had to worry about asbestos in houses before.” (Schneider 1/13/2002; Schneider 1/14/2002) Bellow’s statement is contradicted by the EPA’s record and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see After November 1, 2001).

An unnamed EPA Region II spokeswoman is cited in the Downtown Express stating, “The EPA’s job was to monitor outdoor air. Monitoring indoors—that wasn’t our job. That’s what the city took care of.” This assertion is contradicted by the EPA’s record and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see After November 1, 2001). According to the paper she adds that she felt the city had done a good job of testing and monitoring indoor air. (Rogers 1/22/2002 pdf file; Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler 4/12/2002 pdf file)

The EPA’s National Ombudsman’s office publishes a report criticizing the EPA’s response to the contamination that was caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center. Robert J. Martin, the EPA National Ombudsman, finds that the “EPA has neither fully used its legal authorities nor its existing hazardous materials response capabilities as a leader of the National Response System to aid the victims of the terrorist attack….” (Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002)
Observations -
bullet The EPA “initiated the National Contingency Plan (NCP) by mobilizing EPA On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) [from various locations in the US to work] in Lower Manhattan (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001) to sample indoor and outdoor air, dust and water to, among other things, determine the levels of contamination.”
bullet “[T]he United States Geological Survey (USGS) testified that the plume of contaminated dust from the attacks was highly caustic with pH readings at least as high as 12.1 (see September 20, 2001).”
bullet “The Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has concluded that all dust from the World Trade Center attack must be presumed to be asbestos containing material (ACM) (see January 31, 2002).”
bullet “During the last thirty years as a leader of the National Response System, EPA has used the National Contingency Plan as a framework to perform indoor air testing and remediation where there have been releases of hazardous material into homes, schools, and/or offices throughout the United States.”
Conclusions -
bullet “A clear reading of the definition of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), leads to the reasonable conclusion that all of the material, released from the attack may be a hazardous waste.”
bullet “[A]ny cleanup of this dust, should have been and must now be performed in Ml compliance with the OSHA regulations including but not limited to 29 CFR 1910 and 1926.”
bullet “The EPA is not being honest about the presence of EPA On Scene-Coordinators in New York (see October 5, 2001) (see October 9, 2001-October 19, 2001) (see March 11th, 2002).”
bullet “EPA has not fully discharged its duties under PDD (Presidential Directive) 62 (see November 28, 2001), the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972), and the 2001 OMB Annual Report to Congress on Combating Terrorism (see August 2001). EPA has abandoned its responsibilities for cleaning up buildings (both inside and out) that are contaminated, or that are being re-contaminated, as a result of the uncontrolled chemical releases from the World Trade Center terrorist attack.”
Recommendations -
bullet “EPA Region II should, pursuant to authorities under Presidential Directive PDD 62, and the National Contingency Plan (NCF) immediately clean the ducts and upgrade the ventilation systems to install high efficiency filtration at the Stuyvesant High School during spring break.”
bullet “EPA Region II should execute authorities under Presidential Directive PDB 62, the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and consistent with Administrator Whitman’s statement in Libby, Montana four days before the World Trade Center terrorist attack, issue legal guarantees to all building owners, building managers, local businesses, the New York City Board of Education, and condominium and coop owners to protect them from assuming the costs of cleanup from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.”
bullet “Consistent with Presidential Directive PDD 62, the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and Administrator Whitman’s statement in Libby, Montana four days before the World Trade Center terrorist attack, EPA Region II should cleanup all impacted buildings (interiors and exteriors) in conjunction with corresponding remediation at ‘ground zero.’”

Cate Jenkins PhD, a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, writes an open memo recommending that New York City residents who believe their apartments were contaminated as a result of the WTC destruction have their carpets and upholstery tested using the “Millette ultrasonication” test method, which she explains is far superior to the micro-vac method currently being recommended by the EPA. She also repeats her earlier criticism of EPA Region 2’s decision (see (September 12, 2001)) to use the 1 percent asbestos level as its “level of concern.” (Jenkins 6/9/2002 pdf file)

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) completes an interim report on the EPA’s response to the environmental disaster ensuing from the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center towers. (Herzfeld 3/20/2003) The EPA OIG’s final report will be released in August 2003 (see August 21, 2003).

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) releases its investigative report on the EPA’s response to the environmental consequences resulting from the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center towers. (Herzfeld 3/20/2003; Environmental Protection Agency 8/21/2003 pdf file) The report, titled, “EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Disaster Collapse: Challenges, Successes, and Areas for Improvement,” concludes:
bullet The agency did not have sufficient data to support its claim that air in Lower Manhattan following September 11 was “safe to breathe” (see January 5, 2006).
bullet The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) “heavily influenced” the EPA’s press releases, minimizing the risk to public health. Selected emails analyzed by OIG “indicated that CEQ dictated the content of early press releases” (see (September 12, 2001-December 31, 2001)).
bullet The EPA does not have an adequate system for reviewing and approving the content of EPA press releases.
bullet The EPA misled the public by failing to acknowledge that “health standards do not exist” for the cumulative simultaneous impact of exposure to more than one toxin and that the synergistic effects resulting from these combinations are not well-understood.
bullet The EPA Region 2 incorrectly applied AHERA and NESHAP asbestos standards as safety benchmarks when in fact these referred to the detection limits of certain testing methods (see (September 12, 2001)).
bullet The EPA failed to consider the short-term impacts of acute exposure to various toxins.
bullet The EPA lacked sufficient data on 10 of the 14 “pollutants of concern” identified by scientists as possible components of the WTC dust and debris.
bullet The EPA based its assessments on a risk standard of 1-in-10,000 for only some of carcinogenic pollutants thought to be contained in the clouds instead of the 1-in-1,000,000 acceptable-risk standard. It also ignored the agency’s traditional reliance on the 1-in-100,000 level, which usually triggers corrective action.
bullet The OIG determined there is “no evidence that EPA attempted to conceal data results from the public.” However, EPA scientist Cate Jenkins provides evidence the EPA and the City of New York DEP did in fact alter and in effect, conceal data results (see July 15, 2004).
bullet The OIG finds that the EPA should have implemented the National Contingency Program (see 1972), which would have given EPA jurisdiction over other government agencies and control over the issue of indoor air contamination. Critics of this report will argue that the EPA had in fact implemented the NCP immediately after the attacks (see After November 1, 2001).

Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, releases a memorandum arguing that “both EPA and NYC deliberately concealed, altered, falsified, and deleted data showing asbestos levels that both EPA and NYC declared unsafe.” (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)

James Zadroga, a detective who worked on the recovery effort at Ground Zero following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, dies. Zadroga was 34. According to the first report into his death, by the Ocean County medical examiner, Zadroga dies from a “history of exposure to toxic fumes and dusts.” This is apparently the first death following a long-term illness related to work at the WTC site. (Fahim 4/12/2006)

A report finds that the death of former New York City detective James Zadroga (see January 5, 2006) was caused by exposure to dust during rescue attempts at Ground Zero. The report, by Gerard Breton of the medical examiner’s office in Ocean County, New Jersey, says, “It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident.” Before completing the report, Breton did not consult with doctors who had tested or treated other first responders at Ground Zero, although he did talk to Zadroga’s physician. Neither did he test particles found in Zadroga’s lungs to compare them with the dust from the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, Breton says, “I cannot personally understand that anyone could see what I saw in the lungs, and know that the person was exposed to Ground Zero, and not make the same link I made.” (DePalma 4/14/2006) His conclusion will be disputed. (Kahn 9/15/2008) The report may have a wider impact, as several lawsuits have been brought by first responders and downtown residents alleging that the toxic mixture of dust and fumes at Ground Zero was deadly. In addition, the report may mean Zadroga’s death should be classified as “in the line of duty,” meaning his survivors would be eligible for more benefits. (DePalma 4/14/2006)

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