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Context of 'December 4, 2001: Article Says WTC Collapse May Have ‘Serious Long Term Environmental Health Effects’'

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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

An article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, titled, “Environmental Aftermath,” suggests that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers “may have serious long term environmental health effects on those in harm’s way, including children, office workers, rescuers and residents.” It cites “asbestos, lead and PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) present in the dust created by the Twin Towers collapse as among the most potentially serious lingering exposures to the community, including rescue workers, office workers and the more than 20,000 residents, and 3,000 children, who live within half a mile of Ground Zero.” [Environmental Health Perspectives, 11/2001; Environmental Health Perspectives, 12/4/2001]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

More than 100 residents gather at New York City Hall to protest the city and federal governments’ response to the WTC environmental fallout. Demonstrators are concerned that contaminated air is affecting the health of residents, students, and those working in Lower Manhattan. Peggy Sarlin of the World Trade Center Environmental Emergency Group tells NY1 News, “We are frustrated. We are very scared about our health, both short term and long term. We are angry and we intend to do something about it.” [NY1 News, 2/28/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center Environmental Emergency Group, Peggy Sarlin

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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. [BNA Daily Environment Report, 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).

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality, Office of the Inspector General (EPA), Cate Jenkins, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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