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Context of 'September 13, 2001-September 19, 2001: EPA Building near Ground Zero Professionally Cleaned of Asbestos'

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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]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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. [International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, 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. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/28/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

During a conference call, EPA Region 8 offers Region 2 free use of 30 to 40 electron microscopes, along with analysts, to test bulk dust samples in New York City. [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file] EPA Region 8 has a contract with EMSL Laboratories for the microscopes, which they are using to evaluate soils at the Libby, Montana cleanup site (see (August 2001)). Region 8 says they can get twelve of the scopes to Manhattan the next day. But William Muszynski, Region 2’s Acting Administrator, rejects the offer in less than polite terms. “We don’t want you fucking cowboys here,” Muszynski is later alleged to have said. “The best thing they could do is transfer you to Alaska.” [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file] Instead, the EPA and other federal and city government agencies will use the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method (see November 20, 1990) to test for the presence of asbestos fibers. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/28/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/14/2002]

Entity Tags: William Muszynski

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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; Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Rainstorms in New York City produce run-off with “elevated PCB and dioxin levels.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/21/2001]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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; Washington Post, 1/8/2002; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file; Salon, 8/15/2003]

Entity Tags: The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Environmental Protection Agency, Ed Olmstead

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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