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Context of 'September 12, 2001: EPA Manager Rejects Offer of Quality Microscopes to Examine Ground Zero Dust'

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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 begins removing asbestos from private homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation contaminated the surrounding area (see November 21, 1999). The EPA conducts the cleanup operation under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972). [Jenkins, 12/3/2001 pdf file; Jenkins, 1/11/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency, 7/26/2004] In some cases, it will be necessary for the EPA to take extreme measures to ensure that asbestos levels in certain homes meet EPA standards. For example, the agency will have to completely demolish one home and rebuild it after the standard procedures of replacing carpets, upholstered furniture, and professional abatement fail to reduce the presence of asbestos to an acceptable level. [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

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 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

HP Environmental, a Virginia law firm, releases a study concluding that there is an overwhelming concentration of ultra fine fibers—particles measuring less than half a micron in size—in the Manhattan area that have eluded the standard polarized light microscopy (PLM) techniques (see September 12, 2001) used by the EPA. The report was compiled by several scientists and industrial hygienists including Hugh Granger, Ph.D., CIH and Piotr Chmielinski, CIH of HP Environmental; Tom McKee, Ph.D. of Scientific Laboratories; Jim Millette, Ph.D. of MVA, Inc.; and George Pineda, CIH of ET Environmental. Newsweek reports that according to Granger, the study’s lead author, high concentrations of these fibers have been detected “within several blocks of Ground Zero, including inside closed and undamaged offices nearby and as high up as 36 stories.” Dr. Philip Landrigan, a leading expert on asbestos toxicity, commenting on the report’s findings, tells Newsweek, “I find this very troublesome. The smaller the particle, the more easily it can be aerosolized. And the easier job that it has penetrating right down into the very depths of the lungs.” The study is based on laboratory tests of samples collected between September 21 and 28. [Newsweek, 10/5/2001; Associated Press, 10/10/2001; Reuters, 10/15/2001; New York Magazine, 10/22/2001] The study is initially posted on the website of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). But is removed after only 5 hours. Cate Jenkins, a veteran EPA employee, will later suggest that “its removal was motivated by the fact that it conflicted with Governor Whitman’s press release of the same day (see October 3, 2001) claiming no hazardous exposures to asbestos except at Ground Zero.” [Jenkins, 12/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Phillip Landrigan, Tom McKee, Ph.D., Piotr Chmielinski, CIH, Jim Millette, Ph.D., HP Environmental, George Pineda, CIH, Hugh Granger

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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