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Context of '(September 12, 2001): Tests Reveal High Asbestos Levels in New York'

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The World Trade Center twin towers collapse—the south tower at 9:59 a.m. and the north tower half an hour later at 10:28 a.m. (CNN 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; Washington Post 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002) The collapses create huge dust clouds that roll through the streets of Lower Manhattan, breaking windows and forcing dust and debris into the interior of surrounding buildings.
Composition of dust - Chemicals and materials present in the billowing clouds include pulverized plaster, paint, foam, glass fibers and fragments, fiberglass, cement, vermiculite (used as a fire retardant instead of asbestos), chrysotile asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, pesticides, phthalate esters, brominated diphenyl ethers, cotton fibers and lint, tarry and charred wood, soot, rubber, paper and plastic. (Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online 9/15/2001; Palmer 11/4/2001; Lioy et al. 7/2002; US Geological Survey 10/2002 pdf file) The dust has an extremely high pH. (US Geological Survey 11/27/2001; Schneider 2/10/2002)
Distribution of dust and debris - The debris will be distributed very unevenly throughout the city because of their varying weights. Dusts containing relatively heavy components, such as pulverized concrete and glass, will settle near the World Trade Center, whereas dust containing lighter components, like asbestos, will fall to the ground in greater relative concentrations at a further distance. Heavy metals—including zinc, strontium, lead and aluminum—will also be deposited a relatively large distance away from the disaster site. (Lioy et al. 7/2002; US Geological Survey 10/2002 pdf file; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)
Composition of smoke/debris plume - Combustible materials buried in the rubble of the towers provides fuel for a fire that will burn until December. Many of the materials are made of substances that when burned release highly toxic fumes. According to Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, “The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids, and organics for at least six weeks.” (BBC 9/10/2003; Wulfhorst 9/11/2003)
bullet The two towers contained as many as 50,000 personal computers, each containing small amounts of mercury and about 4 lbs of lead. The towers also contained roughly 300 mainframe computers. (Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)
bullet Thousands of fluorescent lamps in the buildings contained mercury. (Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)
bullet Thousands of chairs and other office furniture contained chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which pose dangers similar to PCBs. (Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 pdf file)
bullet Several of the WTC’s tenants are known to have had toxic materials on site. For example, there was a Secret Service shooting range that kept millions of rounds of lead ammunition on hand. And a US Customs lab had in its inventory thousands of pounds of arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and other toxic substances. (Kupferman 2003 pdf file)
bullet Other products in the buildings included synthetic fabrics, plastics, laminates, the di-electric fluids that encase electrical cables, capacitors, electrical cable insulation and transformers. The toxins resulting from the combustion of these materials include toxic lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxins (see December 27, 2002), mercury, nickel, vandium, sulphur, PAHs, PCBs and furans. (Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 pdf file)
Distribution of smoke/debris plume - The aerosol plume will move from the WTC site in Lower Manhattan directly over Brooklyn where it will drop much of its toxic debris, contaminating the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and beyond. New York City Council member David Yassky, who is in Brooklyn campaigning on this day, will later recount in an interview with Newsday, “There was a film of dust on everything—on cars, stores, everywhere in Brooklyn Heights. If you were there, as I was, you saw several hours of debris rain down on your neighborhood.” (Garrett 8/23/2002; Garrett 9/30/2002)

The City of New York samples air at Centre and Chambers St. (7 blocks Northeast of Ground Zero perimeter, east of Broadway) and Spruce and Gold St. (7 to 8 blocks Northeast of Ground Zero perimeter, east of Broadway). Both of these sites are upwind from the World Trade Center disaster site. TEM tests reveal that these air samples have high levels of asbestos fibers suspended in the air—123.73 s/mm2 at Centre and Chambers St., and 157.48 s/mm2 at Spruce and Gold St. (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file) Neither the City of New York nor the EPA will warn residents about these alarming asbestos levels. When the city publishes results of its polarized light microscopy (PLM) tests on October 24 (see October 24, 2001), it does not include these sampling results, or even mention that tests were performed at this location. Similarly, when it publishes the results of the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests on its website in early 2002 (see Early 2002), this data is again left out. However, this data is given to the State of New York on November 13 (see November 13, 2001). Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, will later suggest that the omission was intentional in order to obscure the fact that contamination was occurring considerably north of Ground Zero. (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file) The City of New York will not return to these locations to conduct additional monitoring so there is no additional data on contamination in these locations. (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that the EPA is monitoring levels of airborne contaminants in and around the area of Manhattan. She says that samples so far are “reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.” The tests “found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos.” In Brooklyn, which is directly in the WTC smoke plume’s path (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), she says that “levels of lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds in air samples… were not detectable or not of concern.” (Environmental Protection Agency 9/13/2001) However, her statements contradict results from transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests that were conducted the previous day (see (September 12, 2001)).

The City of New York posts test results for asbestos in ambient outdoor air using the polarized light microscopy (PLM) test method on the NYC Department of Environmental Protection website. (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file) New York City DEP test results based on the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) testing method are not posted until early 2002 (see Early 2002).

The City of New York supplies the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with the original version of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) test results on air asbestos levels. (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file) A censored version of the data is later released to the public in early 2002 (see Early 2002).

The City of New York posts the results of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests on air asbestos levels on the New York City Department of Environmental Protection website. The data does not match the results that had been given to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation back in November (see November 13, 2001). Test results indicating excessive asbestos levels have been either deleted or changed to “not detected.” (Environmental Protection Agency 7/15/2004 pdf file)

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