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Context of 'September 18, 2001: Dioxin Levels Five Times Higher than Normal Found near Ground Zero'

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The World Trade Center twin towers collapse—the south tower at 9:59 a.m. and the north tower half an hour later at 10:28 a.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The collapses create huge dust clouds that roll through the streets of Lower Manhattan, breaking windows and forcing dust and debris into the interior of surrounding buildings.
Composition of dust - Chemicals and materials present in the billowing clouds include pulverized plaster, paint, foam, glass fibers and fragments, fiberglass, cement, vermiculite (used as a fire retardant instead of asbestos), chrysotile asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, pesticides, phthalate esters, brominated diphenyl ethers, cotton fibers and lint, tarry and charred wood, soot, rubber, paper and plastic. [Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online, 9/15/2001; CNN, 11/4/2001; Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 pdf file] The dust has an extremely high pH. [US Geological Survey, 11/27/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]
Distribution of dust and debris - The debris will be distributed very unevenly throughout the city because of their varying weights. Dusts containing relatively heavy components, such as pulverized concrete and glass, will settle near the World Trade Center, whereas dust containing lighter components, like asbestos, will fall to the ground in greater relative concentrations at a further distance. Heavy metals—including zinc, strontium, lead and aluminum—will also be deposited a relatively large distance away from the disaster site. [Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]
Composition of smoke/debris plume - Combustible materials buried in the rubble of the towers provides fuel for a fire that will burn until December. Many of the materials are made of substances that when burned release highly toxic fumes. According to Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, “The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids, and organics for at least six weeks.” [BBC, 9/10/2003; Reuters, 9/11/2003]
bullet The two towers contained as many as 50,000 personal computers, each containing small amounts of mercury and about 4 lbs of lead. The towers also contained roughly 300 mainframe computers. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Thousands of fluorescent lamps in the buildings contained mercury. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Thousands of chairs and other office furniture contained chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which pose dangers similar to PCBs. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file]
bullet Several of the WTC’s tenants are known to have had toxic materials on site. For example, there was a Secret Service shooting range that kept millions of rounds of lead ammunition on hand. And a US Customs lab had in its inventory thousands of pounds of arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and other toxic substances. [Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]
bullet Other products in the buildings included synthetic fabrics, plastics, laminates, the di-electric fluids that encase electrical cables, capacitors, electrical cable insulation and transformers. The toxins resulting from the combustion of these materials include toxic lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxins (see December 27, 2002), mercury, nickel, vandium, sulphur, PAHs, PCBs and furans. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 pdf file]
Distribution of smoke/debris plume - The aerosol plume will move from the WTC site in Lower Manhattan directly over Brooklyn where it will drop much of its toxic debris, contaminating the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and beyond. New York City Council member David Yassky, who is in Brooklyn campaigning on this day, will later recount in an interview with Newsday, “There was a film of dust on everything—on cars, stores, everywhere in Brooklyn Heights. If you were there, as I was, you saw several hours of debris rain down on your neighborhood.” [Newsday, 8/23/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that the EPA is monitoring levels of airborne contaminants in and around the area of Manhattan. She says that samples so far are “reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.” The tests “found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos.” In Brooklyn, which is directly in the WTC smoke plume’s path (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), she says that “levels of lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds in air samples… were not detectable or not of concern.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/13/2001] However, her statements contradict results from transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests that were conducted the previous day (see (September 12, 2001)).

Entity Tags: Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The State of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation monitors record dioxin levels more than five times higher than normal in water discharged into the Hudson River from a sewer pipe at Rector St. Additionally, the monitors find PCBs and dioxin levels in the river’s sediment that are several times higher than figures recorded in an earlier 1993 study. The EPA does not provide the public with this information. Rather the data is found in internal EPA documents later obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through the Freedom of Information Act in October (see October 19, 2001). [New York Daily News, 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media, 10/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York Environmental Law and Justice Project

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The EPA publishes a summary of results from the air-monitoring program it implemented shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The summary covers the period between September 11 and September 30.
bullet “Out of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed—a stringent standard based upon assumptions of long term exposure. OSHA has analyzed 67 air samples from the same area, and all were below the OSHA workplace standard for asbestos.”
bullet “All fifty-four air samples from EPA’s four monitors in New Jersey found no [asbestos] levels above EPA’s standard. Another 162 samples were taken from EPA’s monitors at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, where debris from the World Trade Center is being taken; only two exceeded EPA’s standard.”
bullet “Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material. Although early samples from water runoff into the Hudson and East Rivers showed some elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, asbestos and metals, recent results find non-detectable levels of asbestos, and PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals below the level of concern.”
bullet EPA and OSHA samples from Ground Zero and surrounding areas did not contain levels of lead, iron oxide, zinc oxide, copper or beryllium exceeding OSHA limits.
bullet The EPA “has measured dioxin levels in and around the World Trade Center site that were at or above EPA’s level for taking action.” However, the risk from dioxin is based on long term exposure, EPA claims, adding that the agency and OSHA “expect levels to diminish as soon as the remaining fires on the site are extinguished.” The exact figures of the dioxin levels, however, are startling. More than a year later, the EPA will publish a report which includes the raw dioxin data for this period indicating that dioxins levels on some days were almost six times the highest dioxin level ever recorded in the US (see December 27, 2002).
bullet “Of the 36 samples of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) taken around Ground Zero to assist response workers in determining the appropriate level of respiratory protection, several samples have been above the OSHA standard for workers. None presented an immediate risk to workers, and the levels are expected to decline when the fires are out.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/3/2001]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project obtains internal EPA documents containing data that the agency did not include in the monitoring results it posted on its website on October 3 (see October 3, 2001). The documents, which include hundreds of pages of daily monitoring reports, reveal that “[d]ioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead and chromium are among the toxic substances detected in the air and soil around the WTC site by Environmental Protection Agency [monitoring] equipment—sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” For example, one test indicated water being discharged into the Hudson River contained chromium, copper, lead and zinc at levels “elevated to several orders of magnitude above ambient water-quality criteria for most metals.” Also included is disturbing data about the air quality. “On numerous days, sulfur dioxide readings in the air at a half-dozen sites in Lower Manhattan have been far higher than the EPA’s ambient air quality standards,” one document reveals. [New York Daily News, 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media, 10/26/2001; Associated Press, 10/27/2001; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The EPA Office of Research and Development releases a comprehensive study on pollution in and around Ground Zero titled, “Exposure and Human Health Evaluation of Airborne Pollution from the World Trade Center Disaster.” The study concludes that the majority of residents and employees who returned to homes and offices after September 17 were “unlikely to suffer short-term or adverse health effects” from contaminants in the air. However the study warns that the thousands of people who were caught in the huge billowing dust clouds immediately after the towers collapsed, or who inhaled the air near the WTC site a few days after the attack, were “at risk for immediate acute [and possibly chronic] respiratory and other types of symptoms.” On page 77 of the report, the authors reveal that recorded dioxin levels from September through November were extremely high. For example, between October 12 and 29, a monitoring station on Park Row near City Hall Park recorded dioxin levels that averaged 5.6 parts per trillion/per cubic meter of air. This level is almost six times greater than the highest dioxin level ever recorded in the US, the report notes. The heaviest concentrations of dioxins were found at Ground Zero where concentrations “ranging from about 10 to 170” parts per trillion were recorded during the period between September 23 through November 21. Again the report observes that this figure is “between 100 and 1,500 times higher than typically found in urban air.” David Carpenter, MD, a researcher at State University of New York, tells the New York Daily News, “Those air levels are outrageous. There’s a very significant health danger here.” [New York Daily News, 12/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11


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