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Context of 'September 20, 2001: US Geological Survey Finds Asbestos, ‘Alphabet Soup of Heavy Metals’ in Ground Zero Dust'

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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]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: US Congress

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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. [Environmental Protection Agency, 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).

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

NASA’s de Havilland Twin Otter propeller plane makes 14 passes over the region affected by the WTC collapse. The infrared-scanning AVIRIS unit, located underneath the plane, records infrared signatures of minerals reflected from the ground (see September 12, 2001). After the flight, the data tapes are sent to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena where NASA scientists Robert Green and Frank Loiza are waiting to review the data. The tapes arrive 2 a.m. the next morning. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Frank Loiza, Robert Green

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

US Geological Survey (USGS) geophysicists Gregg Swayze and Todd Hoefen fly to New York City to get calibration data from the ground that will supplement the data collected by AVIRIS (see 12:00 p.m. September 16, 2001-2:00 a.m. September 17, 2001). They collect 35 dust samples from a variety of locations around Ground Zero including window ledges, flower pots and car windshields. While “AVIRIS offers a bird’s-eye view…,” Roger Clark, a USGS astrophysicist, later explains to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The ground samples… gave us up-close, specific information on specific points.” On September 19 they send their data to the USGS office in Denver over the Internet. The next day, scientists will begin conducting a variety of tests on the samples (see September 20, 2001). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Roger Clark, Gregg Swayze, Todd Hoefen

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists begin performing tests on the dust samples collected by USGS geophysicists, Gregg Swayze and Todd Hoefen, during the previous three days (see September 17, 2001-September 19, 2001-). Roger Clark (the astrophysicist who heads the AVIRIS program at USGS), Gregg Swayze, Todd Hoefen and Eric Livo (another USGS scientist) analyze samples in the Imaging Spectroscopy Lab and Gregory Meeker (head of the USGS’s microbeam laboratory) views samples with the scanning electron microscope and conducts energy dispersive spectroscopy. Other USGS scientists study the samples using X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, as well as chemical analysis and chemical leach testing. Within hours, the results from the various tests indicate the presence of asbestos and an “alphabet soup of heavy metals.” Each of the different techniques used to determine the chemical components of the dust “back each other up,” Swayze later explains to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Some techniques can see more than others, and we were throwing in every technique we had in house,” he says. Tests revealed the dust to be extremely alkaline with a pH of 12.1 (out of 14). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002] and that some of it was as caustic as liquid drain cleaner. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002] “We were startled at the pH level we were finding,” Swayze adds. “We knew that the cement dust was caustic, but we were getting pH readings of 12 and higher. It was obvious that precautions had to be taken to protect the workers and people returning to their homes from the dust.” Sam Vance, an environmental scientist with the EPA, sends the results to officials at the EPA, the New York health department and US Public Health Service. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Roger Clark, US Geological Service, Todd Hoefen, Steve Sutley, Joe Taggart, Eric Livo, Robert Green, Phil Hageman, Geoffrey Plumlee, Gregg Swayze, Gregory Meeker

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

After USGS scientists complete their analysis of the dust samples collected in New York City (see September 17, 2001-September 19, 2001-) —which found asbestos, an “alphabet soup of heavy metals,” and an extremely high pH level (see September 20, 2001) —the team emails the results to “all the government contacts the team had” including people at the EPA and FEMA, as well as to the federal emergency response coordinator. The EPA never informs the public of the dust’s high pH. “We anticipated that the results would have been shared with the people on the ground, those at risk, but it looks like the information never got to those who needed it,” Geoffrey Plumlee, a geochemist, will later tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [US Geological Survey, 11/27/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 pdf file] Some scientists will suggest that the dust’s high pH is a major cause of what will come to be known as the “WTC cough” (see September 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Geological Service

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: Charlie Fitzsimmons, Stuyvesant High School

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

On October 9, students of Stuyvesant High School, an elite public school known for its rigorous math and science curriculum and ethnic diversity, return to class. [Associated Press, 10/19/2001; Associated Press, 10/26/2001] The two EPA On-Scene Coordinators (OSC) who took part in the decision to re-open the school (see October 5, 2001) are present for the re-opening. [Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman, 3/27/2002] The school is located four blocks north of the WTC site and is downwind from its smoke plume. It is also adjacent to where debris is being loaded from uncovered trucks—some 350 per day—onto barges around the clock. A week after re-opening the school, approximately 100 of the high school’s 3,200 students and teachers complain of respiratory difficulty, mysterious headaches, nausea, sore throats, and nosebleeds. Some students wear respirators to school to protect themselves. [Associated Press, 10/19/2001; Associated Press, 10/26/2001; New York Daily News, 11/1/2001; New York Daily News, 12/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Stuyvesant High School, Charlie Fitzsimmons

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, appearing before Congress, states: “Under the provisions of PDD 62, signed by President Clinton in 1998, the EPA is assigned lead responsibility for cleaning up buildings and other sites contaminated by chemical or biological agents as a result of an act of terrorism. This responsibility draws on our decades of experience in cleaning up sites contaminated by toxins through prior practices or accidents.” Her deputy, Linda Fisher, will repeat this to Congress a week later (see December 5, 2001). [US Congress, 4/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health John L. Henshaw writes in a letter to Mr. Lowell Peterson of the law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, P.C., that since “materials containing asbestos were used in the construction of the Twin Towers, the settled dust from their collapse must be presumed to contain asbestos.” [US Department of Labor, 1/31/2005]

Entity Tags: John L. Henshaw, Lowell Peterson

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Doug Lair, the supervisor of EPA On Scene Coordinator Charlie Fitzsimmon, in a letter to EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin, claims that Fitzsimmons spent only “two weeks in New York City in September” and that “he has minimal knowledge of the World Trade Center response activities conducted beyond the two weeks he spent there.” [Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman, 3/27/2002] This statement contradicts evidence that Fitzsimmons and another OSC were actually at the WTC site for a longer period of time (see October 5, 2001) (see October 9, 2001-October 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert J. Martin, Charlie Fitzsimmons, Doug Lair

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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.’”

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Robert J. Martin

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

At a New York Academy of Medicine briefing, doctors discuss how the environmental conditions at Ground Zero during the recovery effort have so far impacted the health of those who worked at the site. Dr. Steven Levin of the Occupational Medical Center at Mt. Sinai Medical Center explains that several of the more than 1,000 workers he has seen “have developed inflammatory responses” in their lungs and adds that he has seen only a few recover. Dr. Kerry Kelly, chief medical officer for the NYC Fire Department, says that while only 3 percent of New York City firefighters had respiratory problems prior to September 11, this number has since increased to 15.6 percent. Another speaker at the briefing, Lung Chi Chen of the NYU Department of Environmental Medicine, suggests that either the pulverized glass, the high pH level (see September 20, 2001), or a combination of the two, probably causes the World Trade Center cough. “We can show that human cells can tolerate acidic exposure very well,” Chen says in an interview. “But the cell cannot tolerate alkali exposure. You shift the pH up and the impact is devastating.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Kerry Kelly, Lung Chi Chen, Stephen Levin MD

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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