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Profile: US Geological Service (USGS)

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US Geological Service (USGS) was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

When USGS hydrologist Christopher Milly submits a draft press release about a recent article on the increased risk of extreme flooding due to global warming, he is warned by a USGS press officer that the release might cause problems at the White House due to the sensitive nature of its topic. The news release would generate “great problems with the department,” Milly is advised. As predicted, the release is rejected by the Department of the Interior on grounds that the journal Nature will probably be publishing its own release about the article. [Washington Post, 4/6/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 33 pdf file] However, it has been noted (see, e.g., (April 2001)) that government press releases issued in conjunction with releases published by scientific journals are helpful to the public because government issued releases tend to be written in a language that it more accessible.

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Christopher Milly, US Geological Service

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The EPA’s National Ombudsman’s office convenes a hearing on the environmental issues that resulted from the attacks on the World Trade Center. Hugh Kaufman, the EPA ombudsman’s chief investigator, remarks during the hearing that he believes the EPA, as well as state and city officials, have intentionally utilized inferior testing methods in order to avoid finding evidence that environmental conditions threaten public health. “I believe EPA did not do that because they knew it would come up not safe and so they are involved in providing knowingly false information to the public about safety,” Kaufman, says. “Not just EPA, the state and the city, too. We also had testimonies that all the agencies—local, state, and federal—have been consorting together every week to discuss these issues.” [CNN, 2/24/2002] Numerous experts testify at the hearing, criticizing the EPA’s response to the September 11 attacks, including David Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH); Dr. Thomas Cahill, of the University of California at Davis; Marjorie J. Clarke, PhD, an adjunct professor at Lehman and Hunter College, City University of New York; Alison Johnson, Chairman of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, among others. Government officials and employees were invited to participate—including officials from the EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the US Geological Survey, the governor’s office, state agencies, the mayor’s office and city agencies—but did not appear. “This is the first time this has happened in this type of hearing,” Hugh Kaufman, tells United Press International. [United Press International, 2/24/2002; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/25/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Marjorie J. Clarke, PhD, Thomas Cahill, Hugh Kaufman, US Geological Service, Jerrold Nadler, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Alison Johnson, Cate Jenkins, PhD., Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The US Geological Survey establishes new rules requiring the screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The rules say that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.” Such “products” include all public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks. P. Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director, insists the new requirements are being implemented to improve scientists’ accountability, maintain their neutrality, and “harmonize” the review process. Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif, disagrees. “I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do,” he says, adding that he thinks the motivation behind the new rules is “to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.” [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]

Entity Tags: P. Patrick Leahy, US Geological Service, Jim Estes

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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