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Context of 'November 1, 2001: Government Experts Say Environment near Ground Zero Is Not Hazardous'

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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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

A study commissioned by the EPA, “Evaluation of Three Cleaning Methods for Removing Asbestos from Carpet,” finds that available methods of asbestos removal from carpets and upholstery are incapable of effectively removing the fibers. “The wet cleaning method reduced the level of asbestos contamination in the carpet by approximately 60 percent, whereas neither dry cleaning method had any notable effect on the asbestos level,” the report says. [Environmental Protection Agency, 1993; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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; New York Daily News, 11/20/2001 pdf file; Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file] In spite of these problems, the EPA website will link to the notice. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 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.” [American Medical News, 11/26/2001]

Entity Tags: New York City Department of Health, Ira Finegold

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Residents at 150 Franklin Street, a seven-story cooperatively owned building several blocks north of Ground Zero, clean their apartments according to the instructions provided by the New York City Department of Health (see September 17, 2001). They also sweep the roof and other common areas. Despite their efforts, the building will test positive for asbestos in April 2002 (see April 15, 2002-April 18, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The New York City Department of Health issues a press release reiterating earlier public statements regarding the air quality in Manhattan and announces that the agency has distributed over 50,000 copies of the New York City Department of Health’s recommendations for tenant re-occupancy (see September 17, 2001). The press release quotes New York City Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen, MD, who asserts that “there are no significant adverse health risks to the general public….” and “all residents and business owners should check with their building managers or owners to make sure that their buildings are safe, and have been certified for re-occupancy.” Residents and business owners who are permitted to return to their buildings “should follow Health Department recommendations to minimize exposure to dust and other particulate matter that may cause throat and eye irritation,” he says. The statement goes on to say that only people who live or work “within the general vicinity of the blast zone… and who have been approved to resume tenancy are advised to wear a dust mask while outside. Dust masks are not necessary for residents in other areas.” Tenants following the DEP’s cleanup guidelines should find it “unnecessary to wear a mask while inside buildings,” the statement says. [New York City Department of Health, 9/22/2001]

Entity Tags: New York City Department of Health, Neal L. Cohen, M.D.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The American Lung Association announces plans to distribute more than 10,000 cleanup kits to assist people returning to their homes. Each “Operation Return Home” kit will include recommendations (see September 17, 2001) from the city’s department of health on how to properly clean their residences as well as a dust mask and a pair of latex gloves for cleaning. [Associated Press, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: American Lung Association

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Environmental Protection Agency, Cate Jenkins, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. [New York Daily News, 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. [New York Daily News, 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. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathryn Freed, Joel R Kupferman, Kathleen Callahan, Jessica Leighton, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The EPA uses a form letter to respond to inquiries from people who live and work in Manhattan asking how they should clean their interior spaces. The letter instructs them to follow the procedures outlined in the New York Department of Health’s September 17 advisory (see September 17, 2001). “The EPA does not have jurisdiction or oversight of indoor air quality or indoor cleanups,” the letter explains. “New York City (NYC) has the primary authority and responsibility for reoccupancy of buildings and health issues. Since you work very close to the WTC it is important that the recommendations of the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) on how to clean up be followed…. The NYCDOH fact sheet on the internet (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/alerts/wtc3.shtml) contains recommendations for people reoccupying commercial buildings and residents re-entering their homes. Should the need arise to investigate the requirements for remediation of your residence, the NYCDEP has compiled a list of asbestos investigators, remediation contractors and air monitoring firms.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA Region 2 responds to an inquiry from a woman concerned about the asbestos levels in the building where her husband works, which is across the street from the World Trade Center site. The EPA informs her that “that the owner/manager of the building [should] follow the cleanup guidelines in the September 16 City of New York Public Notice (see September 16, 2001)…. In addition, the New York City Department of Health has a fact sheet (see September 17, 2001) on the internet… that contains recommendations for people re-occupying commercial buildings and residents re-entering their homes.” [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, testifies before the joint New York State Assembly Committees on Environmental Conservation, Health, and Labor. She reiterates past EPA assertions that WTC contaminants pose no long term risks to local residents. “We’ve tested for the presence of pollutants such as asbestos, fine particulate matter, lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxin, benzene, metals, PCBs and other chemicals and substances that could pose a threat to the public and workers at the site,” she says. “Fortunately, the vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants that pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero. And despite recent press accounts which suggest otherwise, these findings have not changed. In fact, environmental conditions off the site have improved in recent weeks.” Callahan also says that people concerned about contamination in their homes “should 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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Kathleen Callahan

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 2’s legal counsel advises in a draft document (obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through a Freedom of Information Act): “[AHERA] was developed to determine whether school buildings where asbestos was used are safe. Under this test, an air monitor pumps room air through a special filter for a specified amount of time. Then the number of asbestos ‘structures,’ or fibers, on a square millimeter of the filter are counted. If there are fewer than 70 such structures, the air is judged to be acceptable. EPA has used this same school-based standard to evaluate the safety of outside air in downtown Manhattan.” [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file] The EPA counsel’s statement is a misinterpretation of AHERA (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Thomas R. Frieden, MD, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, testifies before the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and says: “The data from air quality tests thus far have been, in general, reassuring. None of the testing done to date has shown results that would indicate long term health impacts.” But his assessment is based on a flawed interpretation of the AHERA standard. He incorrectly (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) says in the testimony that “the clearance/reoccupancy standard for indoor air in schools after an asbestos abatement project… is 70 structures of asbestos per square millimeter.” [New York City, 2/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Thomas R. Frieden

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project collects dust samples at 150 Franklin Street at the request of one of the building’s tenants. He sends three samples to a lab which tests the dust for asbestos using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The lab finds asbestos levels of 1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 percent. In September (see Shortly after September 17, 2001), the tenants had cleaned the building according to instructions provided by the city’s health department (see September 17, 2001). The building’s tenants—among them a family-run child care center—had relied on assurances from EPA and city officials that the downtown air was safe and consequently did not have the building professionally tested. After Kupferman notifies the city about these alarming results, the city tests the building using polarized light microscopy (PLM) on April 18 and does not find elevated asbestos levels. The city’s samples are retested by the EPA using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and found to have an asbestos level ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent. “We recommended that [the building] be professionally cleaned,” EPA spokesperson Mary Mears later says. [New York Daily News, 5/2/2002; Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file; Salon, 8/15/2003]

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

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) releases its “Report on Residential Air and Dust Sampling in Lower Manhattan,” which explains the agency found “low” levels of asbestos in 17.5 percent of the residential units sampled, 19.2 percent of the common area samples and 33 percent of the outdoor areas samples. But the study says there were extremely high levels of fibrous glass, which ranged from 2 to 15 percent in almost half the residential areas sampled and 64 percent of the outdoor samples. The ATSDR recommends “that people continue to conduct frequent cleaning with HEPA vacuums and damp cloths/mops to reduce the potential for exposure in accordance with NYC Department of Health (NYC DEP) guidance (see September 17, 2001).” But the NYC DEP’s instructions have been highly criticized (see September 17, 2001) (see September 22, 2001) and its recommendation to use a HEPA vacuum to remove asbestos contradicts previous EPA commissioned studies (see 1993) (see 1993). [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 5/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The Stone Street apartment of Bob and Diane Van Dyke is cleaned as part of the EPA’s volunteer residential cleaning program (see September 17, 2001). “Seven workers spent four hours on the 2,200 square foot space,” Salon magazine will report. “None of them wore the waist-level air monitors [EPA spokesperson Mary] Mears insisted all crews would have as a safety precaution. No one wore facemasks, respirators, or even plastic gloves, even though the site supervisor had determined that all of the Van Dykes’ upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding were contaminated and should be thrown out. Hot water was used to remove dust from ventilation grates; Murphy’s Oil was spread on the floors. The carpets, which remained, were not vacuumed using the wet methods prescribed on the EPA’s Web site. Neither were the drapes. HEPA vacuums were used, but when a hose abruptly popped off the machine and dust spewed onto the freshly vacuumed floor, the hose was simply reattached and the floor was not re-vacuumed. The cleaning process appeared no different from a standard housecleaning.” [Salon, 8/15/2003]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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