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The EPA designates 232 homes and businesses in Lorain County, Ohio as Superfund sites. The buildings had been illegally sprayed with the pesticide methyl parathion by an exterminator. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 9/30/1999 ) The cleanup is performed by the EPA in collaboration with other federal agencies. “Many of the homes had to have wallboard, carpeting, and baseboards removed when repeated surface cleaning failed to remove trace amounts of methyl parathion,” a report in Environmental Health Perspectives explains. “Residents had to be temporarily relocated, personal items replaced, and transportation to schools and workplaces provided.” (Rubin et al. 12/2002) The cleanup cost taxpayers more than $20 million. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 9/30/1999 )
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that at least 192 deaths and 375 incidents of fatal lung disease in Libby, Montana were caused by exposure to tremolite asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine. The mine was operated by the company W.R. Grace Co. for 30 years until it was sold in 1990 to Kootenai Development Co. (Schneider 11/18/1999)
The Bush administration pressures the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) to stop accepting form letters. CAT’s job is to review comment letters from the public and produce summary reports on public opinion for policy decision-makers. (Hanscom 4/26/2004)
The EPA posts a “questions and answers” page about asbestos and the EPA’s Libby investigation (see November 21, 1999) on its website. It includes only one question: “I recently read that EPA found less than 1 percent (or trace levels) asbestos at Fireman’s Park and other locations that were sampled. Is that a safe level?” The EPA responds that levels of “1 percent or less may be safe” under certain circumstances, but notes that it “could present a risk where there is enough activity to stir up soil and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne” (see 1995). (Environmental Protection Agency 6/18/2001)
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 ; Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002)
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. (Meagher and Stapleton 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 ) 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).
A dust sample is taken by EPA employees as they flee the collapsing buildings. The samples are later tested and found to contain an asbestos level of 4.5 percent. (France and Check 9/14/2001; Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 9/14/2001)
Governor of New York George Pataki closes all state government offices. (CNN 9/12/2001)
CNN reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing emergency-response teams as a precaution. (CNN 9/12/2001)
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announces that the New York City subway and bus service has been partially restored. (CNN 9/12/2001)
US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announces his agency’s emergency response: “CDC has a team on the ground taking air, dust and water samples. This is of utmost concern to health officials. Also, Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams will ensure that the process of removing bodies is conducted as safely as possible, and identifications occur as efficiently as possible. The heavy dust that has coated Lower Manhattan following the attack also poses respiratory risks, particularly to our children and elderly citizens. We are well aware that New York has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the nation, and CDC officials are working with New York authorities to conduct tests and protect our vulnerable residents from high levels of dust in the air.” (US Health and Human Services 9/12/2001)
The New York City Department of Health issues an alert titled, “Terrorist Attack at the World Trade Center in New York City: Medical and Public Health Issues of Urgent Concern.” The notice contains various instructions for the medical community including a “Smoke and Dust Advisory” urging “individuals who have a history of heart and lung conditions or are in areas where smoke or dust is visible… to remain indoors with the windows shut and air conditioners on recirculate or turned off.” (New York City Department of Health 9/11/2001 ; Centers for Disease Control 9/11/2001)
The New Scientist reports concerns that Manhattan residents are at serious risk from smoke and airborne contaminants including carcinogenic asbestos. Michelle De Leo of the British Lung Foundation advises people to “minimize exposure as much as possible by avoiding the area” or by using respiratory protection. Small dust particles easily penetrate the respiratory system, collecting in remote portions of the lung, and resulting in scarring. “This impairs lung function and is permanent,” De Leo explains. “Reducing exposure as much as possible is vitally important.” Other experts warn that toxic fumes from burning furniture in the towers pose additional risks. (Young 9/14/2001)
EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman says with regard to Manhattan’s air quality, “[T]here is no reason for concern.” She says that her agency is regularly sampling airborne particles and that findings indicate that most locations have an asbestos level of less than one percent—the amount above which the EPA considers a material to be “asbestos-containing”—but notes that the highest recorded reading so far was 4.5 percent (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. September 11, 2001)). (Kugiya 9/16/2001) But the EPA is wrong to use the one percent level as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Furthermore, its test results are not accurate, as they are based on the outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying fine fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when it is present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990).
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes a “fact sheet” on the dust and debris that blanketed surrounding streets and penetrated numerous buildings during the collapse of the World Trade Center. The first section, titled, “What is in the dust,” states only: “Dust is a mixture of very fine particles that originally made-up the materials of the WTC and the aircraft that struck it. These particles differ depending on what material the dust came from, how the dust was created, and what happened to the dust after it was released. Analysis of dust samples will provide information on components of the dust. We expect that materials that would be present would be at concentrations lower than those normally associated with health effects.” The flyer makes no effort to name the toxic chemicals and other harmful substances that were known to have been in the two towers. (US Department of Health and Human Services 9/16/2001; Kupferman 2003 )
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issues a public notice advising building owners and building maintenance managers located south of 14th Street to replace filters in air circulation systems and to run their systems on the recirculation mode until fires at the World Trade Center are extinguished. The agency also recommends that owners and managers contract professionals to test their buildings for the presence of asbestos and other hazardous materials prior to beginning cleanup by maintenance employees. If the presence of harmful contaminants are detected, they must telephone the DEP, where a staff employee will review each case and provide verbal approval. (New York City Department of Health 9/16/2001 ; Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
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. (Schneider 2/10/2002)
The New York City Department of Health (DOH) issues recommendations for people reoccupying commercial buildings and residences. (New York City Department of Health 9/17/2001)
The NYC DOH advises residents not return to apartments or workplaces south of Warren Street, west of Broadway, and north of Exchange Street, until the buildings have been approved to resume tenancy by building management.
The DOH recommends that people wear dust masks upon re-entering their indoor areas. After indoor spaces have been cleaned as per instructions, it should not be necessary to wear dust masks.
The advisory recommends that residents and people working downtown clean homes and offices using “a wet rag or wet mop.”
Additional suggestions include shampooing and vacuuming carpets and upholstery with a HEPA vacuum or a normal vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. The recommendation is made despite two studies completed for the EPA in 1993 demonstrating that HEPA vacuums do not effectively remove asbestos from carpets and upholstery (see 1993) and that vacuuming actually increases asbestos levels in the air during use (see 1993).
The advisory recommends that residents filter the air in their homes with HEPA air purifiers.
NYC DOH instructs residents to “wash heavily soiled or dusty clothing or linens twice” and remove “lint from washing machines and filters in the dryers with each laundry load.”
The recommendations say that if the “apartment is very dusty,” curtains should be washed or HEPA vacuumed. “If curtains need to be taken down, take them down slowly to keep dust from circulating in the air,” it adds.
Residents are advised to bathe pets “with running water from a hose or faucet.” The advisory adds that “their paws should be wiped to avoid tracking dust inside the home.”
The advisory also states to “[k]eep outdoor dust from entering the home” by keeping the “windows closed” and setting the “conditioner to re-circulate air (closed vents).”
The advisory repeats earlier assertions that air monitoring indicates levels of airborne asbestos fibers detected in outside air does not pose a significant threat to human health. “Based on the asbestos test results received thus far, there are no significant health risks to occupants in the affected area or to the general public,” the agency claims. The DOH’s recommendations are criticized by industrial hygienists and other experts. The advisory is criticized for failing to mention that the “dust” inside these homes could possibly contain asbestos and other toxic substances and for neglecting to inform people that stringent national statutes regulate asbestos removal, requiring professional abatement of materials or dust that contain asbestos or other hazardous substances. US statutory code does not permit unlicensed individuals or contractors, much less residents, to perform asbestos removal. (New York City Department of Health 9/16/2001 ; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 ; Carlton 5/9/2002 ; Jenkins 7/4/2003 ) In spite of these problems, the EPA website will link to the notice. (Schneider 2/10/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 ) and refer people to it who email the agency with questions about the safety of indoor air (see After November 1, 2001) (see After November 10, 2001). Some people, however, never even learn of this advisory and—after hearing repeated assurances from officials about safe environmental conditions—clean their indoor spaces as they otherwise would under normal conditions. (Office of US Congressman Jerrold Nadler 4/12/2002 ) Residents who do hire professional cleaners will find that their homes are still not safe. In November, American Medical News reports numerous doctors in NYC are seeing patients with respiratory conditions. “Their apartments were covered in dust, and have since been professionally cleaned” Ira Finegold, MD, chief of allergy at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, will say. “But they return, and after 20 minutes, they’re developing a raspy cough.” (Elliott 11/26/2001)
NASA scientists, Robert Green and Frank Loiza, perform the first analysis of the AVIRIS data (see 12:00 p.m. September 16, 2001-2:00 a.m. September 17, 2001) and determine that there are a total of 34 fires burning at the World Trade Center site with temperatures ranging from 800 degrees to 1,000 degrees. They pass this and all subsequent data to the White House and other government agencies that are involved in responding to the environmental impact of the attacks. (Schneider 2/10/2002)
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). (Schneider 2/10/2002; Schneider 2/10/2002)
EPA air monitors detect sulfur dioxide levels that are so elevated that “according to one industrial hygienist, they exceeded the EPA’s standard for a classification of ‘hazardous,’” the New York Daily News later reports. The EPA does not volunteer this information to the public. Rather the data is discovered in internal EPA documents that are obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through the Freedom of Information Act in October (see October 19, 2001). (Gonzalez 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media 10/26/2001)
The EPA publishes a FAQ (frequently asked questions web page) on Environmental and Public Health issues related to the collapse of World Trade Center and Pentagon. The response to one of the questions specifically advises people not to wear respirators outside the WTC restricted area. “EPA has not detected any pollutant levels of concern in Lower Manhattan generally or at the Fresh Kills site on Staten Island, where the debris from the WTC cleanup is being taken for inspection and sorting,” the public notice explains. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/18/2001)
The State of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation monitors record dioxin levels more than five times higher than normal in water discharged into the Hudson River from a sewer pipe at Rector St. Additionally, the monitors find PCBs and dioxin levels in the river’s sediment that are several times higher than figures recorded in an earlier 1993 study. The EPA does not provide the public with this information. Rather the data is found in internal EPA documents later obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through the Freedom of Information Act in October (see October 19, 2001). (Gonzalez 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media 10/26/2001)
At the White House’s request, NASA’s de Havilland Twin Otter prop plane, equipped with the AVIRIS unit (see September 12, 2001), conducts additional flights over Manhattan (see 12:00 p.m. September 16, 2001-2:00 a.m. September 17, 2001), collecting data on the chemical composition of the dust and debris that was distributed throughout the city when the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed. (Schneider 2/10/2002)
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that results from further air and drinking water monitoring near the WTC site and the Pentagon indicate that there are few significant risks to public health. “We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances,” she says. “Most” of the 62 dust samples taken by the agency contained less than one percent of asbestos. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/18/2001) The EPA incorrectly uses the one percent level of ambient asbestos as if it were a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)). Moreover, the test results Whitman cites are based on the less sensitive and outdated polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing method which is incapable of identifying ultra-fine asbestos fibers and which cannot reliably detect asbestos when present in concentrations below one percent (see November 20, 1990). Whitman’s statement also observes that where asbestos levels have exceeded the EPA’s one percent “level of concern,” the “EPA has operated its 10 High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) vacuum trucks to clean the area and then resample.” She adds that the trucks have also cleaned the “streets and sidewalks in the Financial District in preparation for… return to business.” (Environmental Protection Agency 9/18/2001) However, it is later discovered that the contractor hired to clean the streets failed to equip the vacuum trucks with the required HEPA filters. (Bazinet 8/14/2002; Kupferman 2003 )
Attorney Joel R Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project speaks with several emergency workers, police officers, firefighters, union representatives, office workers and residents. According to Kupferman, “All [express] serious concerns about the health hazards they now face firsthand. Some are having trouble breathing, some wheezing and coughing. Many are suffering with severe eye irritation and headaches.” (NY Environmental Law and Justice Project 9/22/2001)
ATC Associates of New York analyzes bulk dust samples taken from Vesey and Liberty Streets near the WTC site by Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist with the Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety organization, and Attorney Joel R Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. The first four samples tested are found to contain 10-15 percent fiberglass, an extremely high concentration. A quarter of the samples have an asbestos level of 2.1 percent. (Environmental & Toxicology International 9/19/2001; NY Environmental Law and Justice Project 9/22/2001; Baard 9/26/2001; Ramirez 10/12/2001) Shortly after these results are made public, the New York State Department of Health warns local labs that they will lose their licenses if they process any more “independent sampling.” (Kupferman 2003 )
Business Week publishes a news report on the potential environmental and human health impact of the World Trade Center collapse. The report cites experts who challenge EPA claims that the air-quality of surrounding areas does not pose significant risks to public health. “[M]any scientists and public-health experts in New York, across the country, and in Europe counter that dust and toxic materials, not asbestos, may be the biggest threat and that the EPA’s testing is, at best, inconclusive,” the magazine reports. Part of the problem lies in lax EPA pollution limits, which experts say “are often heavily influenced by industry” and consequently much too high—“especially in an event of such unprecedented magnitude that flooded the environment with so many contaminants simultaneously.” The report goes on to say that the experts are concerned that “everyone who was in the explosions’ vicinity could have potentially suffered acute exposure from the dust and smoke and could be at risk for everything from near-term respiratory ailments to, over decades, cancer.” Richard Clapp, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, tells Business Week: “Even at low or barely detectable levels, that’s a lot of asbestos fibers and other dangerous particles going into people’s lungs. If those get lodged, they could do damage later on.” Temple University civil engineering professor William Miller notes that the trucks hauling debris away from the WTC are probably dispersing toxic debris “all over Lower Manhattan.” The article says the smallest dust particles, which are difficult to detect, are also the “most insidious” and are not filtered out by paper masks. (Conlin 9/20/2001) Yet the EPA had explicitly stated that people living and working in the area did not need to use respirators (see September 22, 2001).
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). (Schneider 2/10/2002) and that some of it was as caustic as liquid drain cleaner. (Schneider 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. (Schneider 2/10/2002)
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 )
By this date, the EPA has set up approximately 15 wash stations for personnel and vehicles with signs posted instructing rescue workers to wear respirators and to take proper safety precautions. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/22/2001)
Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist with Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, writes a press release criticizing the New York City Department of Health (DOH)‘s WTC disaster cleanup guidelines (see September 17, 2001). The press release, co-signed by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, points out that the DOH’s guidelines could “cause people to take needless risks.” Rossol takes issue with a September 20 New York Times article which suggested that residents could adequately clean up their apartments with a $3 mask and a broom, noting that “[t]aking actions like these can damage health and may even shorten lives in the future.” She insists “methods chosen to clean homes and offices must depend on analysis of the dust and the amounts present.” (NY Environmental Law and Justice Project 9/22/2001)
The New York City Department of Health issues a press release reiterating earlier public statements regarding the air quality in Manhattan and announces that the agency has distributed over 50,000 copies of the New York City Department of Health’s recommendations for tenant re-occupancy (see September 17, 2001). The press release quotes New York City Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen, MD, who asserts that “there are no significant adverse health risks to the general public….” and “all residents and business owners should check with their building managers or owners to make sure that their buildings are safe, and have been certified for re-occupancy.” Residents and business owners who are permitted to return to their buildings “should follow Health Department recommendations to minimize exposure to dust and other particulate matter that may cause throat and eye irritation,” he says. The statement goes on to say that only people who live or work “within the general vicinity of the blast zone… and who have been approved to resume tenancy are advised to wear a dust mask while outside. Dust masks are not necessary for residents in other areas.” Tenants following the DEP’s cleanup guidelines should find it “unnecessary to wear a mask while inside buildings,” the statement says. (New York City Department of Health 9/22/2001)
EPA monitors detect elevated levels of benzene in the smoke plume from the WTC ruins that exceed OSHA’s standard for an eight-hour exposure period. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/23/2001)
Dermatologist Paul Dantzig writes to The New York Times that he is “beginning to see dermatological problems arising from the World Trade Center catastrophe, like foreign-body reactions on the skin and cutaneous infections.” He notes that the “kinds of problems that occur on the skin can also occur in the lungs,” and adds that “People who inhaled large amounts of dust and debris from the center’s collapse will be at risk of developing granulomas and fibrosis of the lungs.” He suggests that people who have been exposed to WTC contaminants be “followed medically and receive X-rays now and periodically over the next few years.” (Baard 9/26/2001)
EPA air monitors at Barclay and West Sts., Church and Dey Sts. and at Ground Zero detect lead levels three times higher than the EPA standard allows. (Gonzalez 10/26/2001)
An EPA press release summarizes the agency’s response to the September 11 attacks under its authority pursuant the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972). (Environmental Protection Agency 9/24/2001)
The American Lung Association announces plans to distribute more than 10,000 cleanup kits to assist people returning to their homes. Each “Operation Return Home” kit will include recommendations (see September 17, 2001) from the city’s department of health on how to properly clean their residences as well as a dust mask and a pair of latex gloves for cleaning. (Associated Press 9/26/2001)
Three of 10 samples taken by the EPA near the attack site indicate elevated levels of lead. (Haughney 1/8/2002)
Joel Shufro, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, questions whether federal, state, and city officials are putting economic interests ahead of the health of New York Lower Manhattan residents and WTC rescue and recovery workers. He comments: “The agencies have made it a priority to get the lower Manhattan financial and stock markets up and running at any cost. In so doing, they have allowed thousands of people to be exposed to substances that haven’t even all been identified, let alone quantified.” (Schneider 1/13/2002)
Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist with Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, writes in the October/November edition of her newsletter, ACTS, that the EPA and NYC Department of Health are providing New Yorkers with false information. “The tests performed by federal, state, and city agencies on the dusts lying on the ground and other surfaces are incomplete and thus cannot be used to determine the hazards to anyone involved in cleaning up these dusts. The primary substance tested by these agencies was asbestos. But there are other important contaminants, such as fiberglass, fine particulates… PCB’s and dioxins. The agency’s tests did not find hazardous airborne asbestos in street air… But these air monitoring results are misleading because they do not indicate what the air levels are inside buildings, schools, and homes in the area. The dust in outdoor air samples is diluted with wind from non-contaminated areas. Indoors, the dust is contained. Disturbing indoor dust during cleaning and other activities can result in higher levels.… The New York [City] Department of Health’s website… provides advice that is typical of the major agencies. The NYC DOH says: ‘… Based on the asbestos test results received thus far, there are no significant health risks to occupants in the affected area or to the general public.…’ This statement is false. As I stated above: there were over 30 locations in Lower Manhattan where asbestos levels were 1 percent or above, including at locations 5 to 7 blocks away from Ground Zero.” (Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
Residents living close to the World Trade Center site complain of ailments they suspect are tied to airborne toxins and dust particles. For example, David Dallow, a resident of Battery Park City apartment, located roughly 100 yards away from the ruins, tells New York Magazine that every time he goes back to his apartment he gets a sore throat, a headache, and a rash. (Kolker 10/22/2001)
EPA officials distribute respirators to employees at the EPA’s Region 2 building at 290 Broadway Street after employees complain about air quality in the building. EPA spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes explains that the masks were distributed for the “voluntary use of those employees who might have respiratory ailments or who feel some temporary discomfort from the air,” the New York Daily News reports. (Gonzalez 10/9/2001)
Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, (BMCC), located four blocks from the World Trade Center site, reopens its campus. (Guardian 10/4/2001; Williams and Worth 12/19/2005) The school is the only school that was damaged as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. When 7 World Trade Center collapsed, the south face of the recently renovated Fiterman Hall was destroyed. The 15-story building housed 40 classrooms, computer labs, and three floors that the college rented to private companies. The remaining portion of the school—designed to hold no more than 8,000 students—must now accommodate some 17,000. The attacks have put a tremendous strain on BMCC’s finances. The damage is estimated to be about $11.5 million. Additionally, the school will lose about $1.1 million in lost lease revenue. The school’s financial problems are compounded by the fact that $9.7 million is set to be cut from next year’s CUNY budget. (Williams and Worth 12/19/2005) Shortly after returning to school, students and teachers will complain about ailments such as acquired asthma, upper-respiratory disease, chronic headaches, and itchy eyes and skin believed to be caused by air contamination that resulted from the WTC collapse and made worse by the continuing fire plume. Despite the college’s long list of problems, the media and city government will pay little attention to the school, whose student body is largely low-income people of color. Instead, the focus will be on Stuyvesant High School, an elite public school, which suffered no direct damages on September 11. By December, more than $1 million will be spent on environmental cleanup at Stuyvesant compared to only $75,000 at BMCC. (Williams and Worth 12/19/2005)
EPA monitors record benzene levels from three spots around Ground Zero that are 42, 31 and 16 times higher than OSHA standards permit. (Gonzalez 10/26/2001)
The EPA monitors record benzene levels at one location near Ground Zero 21 times higher than OSHA standards permit. (Gonzalez 10/26/2001)
The EPA monitors record benzene levels at one location near Ground Zero that is 58 times higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limit. This is the highest benzene reading ever recorded at the WTC site. (Gonzalez 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media 10/26/2001)
A team of specialists from UC Davis, known as the Detection and Evaluation of Long-range Transport of Aerosols (DELTA) Group, conducts air sampling from the roof of 201 Varick St., located one mile north-northeast of the WTC site, at the request of the Department of Energy. Regional meteorology will suggest that the monitoring equipment’s location at Varick Street probably receives material from the World Trade Center site about half the time. The group’s analysts use seven different techniques to analyze the data including synchrotron-induced X-ray fluorescence, scanning transmission ion microscopy and proton elastic scattering analysis, and soft beta mass measurements and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). DELTA will examine the samples for dozens of substances including carbon-based compounds from burning wood, plastic and carpets; glass shards; and asbestos. DELTA will release summary reports in December (see Early November 2001) and February (see February 11, 2002). (JOM 12/1/2001; Wright 2/15/2002; Hogue 2/18/2002)
The EPA publishes a summary of results from the air-monitoring program it implemented shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The summary covers the period between September 11 and September 30.
“Out of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed—a stringent standard based upon assumptions of long term exposure. OSHA has analyzed 67 air samples from the same area, and all were below the OSHA workplace standard for asbestos.”
“All fifty-four air samples from EPA’s four monitors in New Jersey found no [asbestos] levels above EPA’s standard. Another 162 samples were taken from EPA’s monitors at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, where debris from the World Trade Center is being taken; only two exceeded EPA’s standard.”
“Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material. Although early samples from water runoff into the Hudson and East Rivers showed some elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, asbestos and metals, recent results find non-detectable levels of asbestos, and PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals below the level of concern.”
EPA and OSHA samples from Ground Zero and surrounding areas did not contain levels of lead, iron oxide, zinc oxide, copper or beryllium exceeding OSHA limits.
The EPA “has measured dioxin levels in and around the World Trade Center site that were at or above EPA’s level for taking action.” However, the risk from dioxin is based on long term exposure, EPA claims, adding that the agency and OSHA “expect levels to diminish as soon as the remaining fires on the site are extinguished.” The exact figures of the dioxin levels, however, are startling. More than a year later, the EPA will publish a report which includes the raw dioxin data for this period indicating that dioxins levels on some days were almost six times the highest dioxin level ever recorded in the US (see December 27, 2002).
“Of the 36 samples of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) taken around Ground Zero to assist response workers in determining the appropriate level of respiratory protection, several samples have been above the OSHA standard for workers. None presented an immediate risk to workers, and the levels are expected to decline when the fires are out.” (Environmental Protection Agency 10/3/2001)
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. (France 10/5/2001; Matthews 10/10/2001; McCool 10/15/2001; Kolker 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 )
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and John Henshaw, US Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for OSHA, announce that their two agencies “have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents, visitors or workers beyond the immediate World Trade Center area.” But later in the statement, they acknowledge that to date, “Of 177 bulk dust and debris samples collected by EPA and OSHA and analyzed for asbestos, 48 had levels over 1 percent, the level EPA and OSHA use to define asbestos-containing material.” Additionally, they say that out “of a total of 442 air samples EPA has taken at Ground Zero and in the immediate area, only 27 had levels of asbestos above the standard EPA uses to determine if children can re-enter a school after asbestos has been removed….” (Environmental Protection Agency 10/3/2001)
EPA Region 2 states in its daily monitoring notice: “The samples are evaluated against a variety of benchmarks, standards and guidelines established to protect public health under various conditions.… EPA analyzed 34 samples taken in and around Ground Zero from October 8 to October 9. All samples showed results less than 70 structures per millimeter squared, which is the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) standard for allowing children to re-enter school buildings after asbestos removal activities.” (Environmental Protection Agency 10/3/2001) But the statement is a gross misinterpretation of AHERA (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004).
EPA Region 2 says at least four times, and the New York City Department of Health and Environmental Protection at least once, that they are using a protective standard under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) to determine whether indoor and outdoor air pose a threat to public health. They assert that the standard is regularly used to determine whether it is safe for school children to return to school buildings after asbestos has been removed or abated. According to the agencies, the standard designates an asbestos level of 70 or fewer structures per square millimeter as safe. (Jenkins 3/11/2002 ) For example, on a page explaining its “benchmarks, standards and guidelines established to protect public health,” the EPA states: “In evaluating data from the World Trade Center and the surrounding areas, EPA is using a protective standard under AHERA, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, to evaluate the risk from asbestos in the outdoor and indoor air. This is a very stringent standard that is used to determine whether children may re-enter a school building after asbestos has been removed or abated…. To determine asbestos levels, air filters are collected from monitoring equipment through which air in the school building has passed and viewed through a microscope. The number of structures—material that has asbestos fibers on or in it—is then counted. The measurements must be 70 or fewer structures per square millimeter before children are allowed inside.” (Environmental Protection Agency 3/31/2005) But according to Title 40, part 763.90, of the Code of Federal Regulations, the 70 s/mm (Jenkins 3/11/2002 ) Instead, AHERA sets as the EPA’s cleanup goal an exposure level which scientists have determined has a risk level lower than the EPA’s maximum risk level of 10 (Jenkins 3/11/2002 ; Environmental Protection Agency 1/5/2006) The significance of the two agencies’ misstatements cannot be overstated as the 70 s/mm (Jenkins 3/11/2002 )
New York City Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen, MD, says that despite smoky conditions in areas of Lower Manhattan, “test results from the ongoing monitoring of airborne contaminants indicate that the levels continue to be below the level of concern to public health.” (New York City Department of Health 10/5/2001)
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)
The New York Times reports that despite EPA assurances that dangerous levels of contamination do not exist, city residents “who have moved back into downtown homes and offices are convinced that the air is unsafe, and they say they can produce their own data about the health risks: sore throats, tongue lesions, burning eyes and ears and skin rashes.” The residents are calling for independent air testing and want the city to appoint a nonpartisan “environmental advocate” who would explain to the public how studies are being done and what their findings mean. (Saulny and Revkin 10/6/2001)
New York State Governor George E. Pataki announces that New York State will receive $8.5 million in federal funds. $3.5 million of the grant will be provided to the state over a period of five years for initiatives addressing any respiratory impacts of the WTC collapse. The remaining $5 million will be available immediately to support environmental monitoring in New York City, asthma surveillance, health interventions and asthma education. (New York 10/9/2001; Matthews 10/10/2001)
Rich Regis, a Wall Street Journal editor, undergoes treatment for “kidney failure, a perforated colon and sepsis, a generalized infection of the body.” His doctors say that his ailments may have been caused by something he “inhaled or ingested” when he was caught in the debris storm caused by the collapse of the WTC. (Standora 10/25/2001)
The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project obtains internal EPA documents containing data that the agency did not include in the monitoring results it posted on its website on October 3 (see October 3, 2001). The documents, which include hundreds of pages of daily monitoring reports, reveal that “[d]ioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead and chromium are among the toxic substances detected in the air and soil around the WTC site by Environmental Protection Agency [monitoring] equipment—sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” For example, one test indicated water being discharged into the Hudson River contained chromium, copper, lead and zinc at levels “elevated to several orders of magnitude above ambient water-quality criteria for most metals.” Also included is disturbing data about the air quality. “On numerous days, sulfur dioxide readings in the air at a half-dozen sites in Lower Manhattan have been far higher than the EPA’s ambient air quality standards,” one document reveals. (Gonzalez 10/26/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media 10/26/2001; Ibarguen 10/27/2001; Kupferman 2003 )
According to a draft report (see October 29, 2001) prepared by IT Corporation of Las Vegas, there is an increase in benzene and toluene in the smoke plume emanating from the WTC North Tower Center site during this period. (Environmental Protection Agency 10/29/2001 )
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 ) New York City DEP test results based on the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) testing method are not posted until early 2002 (see Early 2002).
Joel A. Miele, Sr., commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, claims his agency has “bent over backwards to be as conservative as possible in our testing… and there is no significant danger” to anyone’s health. “People are safe, not just at the site, but at the perimeters,” he adds. (Newsday 10/26/2003 )
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says NYC government agencies have found that environmental conditions in Lower Manhattan “are not health-threatening… what I’m told is that it is not dangerous to your health.” (Blood 10/27/2001 )
A draft report prepared by IT Corporation of Las Vegas for the EPA’s Office of Emergency and Remedial Response says that bulk dust samples taken from the World Trade Center site were found to contain elevated concentrations of several toxic compounds including CDD/CDF, PCBs, PAHs, and metals. (Environmental Protection Agency 10/29/2001 )
New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says that almost 4,000 firefighters who have participated in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center have complained of respiratory problems, but adds that long term effects of working at Ground Zero are uncertain. “We won’t know for a long period of time if there is any long term effect. Some might lead to asthma, some might lead to lung conditions,” One firefighter has been treated for allergic alveolitis, a rare lung inflammation. Von Essen’s comments follow a Newsweek interview with Dr. David Prezant, the chief pulmonary physician for the city’s fire department. Prezant explained to the magazine that thousands of firefighters require medical care for a range of illnesses, including coughs, sinus infections, lung trauma and severe asthma. Prezant, a professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, has referred to these ailments collectively as the “World Trade Center cough.” (CNN 10/29/2001; CNN 10/29/2001; Dreher 10/29/2001; Ramirez 10/30/2001; BBC 10/31/2001; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 )
Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insists that New Yorkers living and working near the World Trade Center site are not in danger. “The vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero,” she says, repeating what earlier EPA statements have asserted. Downplaying the danger of those areas where higher asbestos levels have been found, she states—falsely (see April 18, 1989) (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) —that “EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards are set many times below the level at which you would expect health impacts.” She advises New Yorkers who live or work in the affected areas to “follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly (see September 17, 2001).” (Environmental Protection Agency 11/1/2001) Another expert, Dr. Jessica Leighton, assistant city health commissioner for environmental risk assessment, similarly states that people living and working in Lower Manhattan have little to worry about. She says in response to a question whether or not “people are safe at the present level” of contamination: “As far as the science has shown us right now, that is absolutely correct.” Like Callahan, she claims that EPA standards are overly protective. “The standards or tolerance levels that are being used are very conservative,” she claims. “For example, for asbestos, we are using the standard that is used for indoor air quality for reentry into a school after asbestos removal, which is the most stringent standard, as the tolerance level or standard for outdoor air quality in the residential areas. This is also true for other substances, such as dioxins, identified at the perimeter of the site…. Moreover, these standards have been designed to include many safety factors so that acceptable levels of exposure are far below the levels at which health effects are expected to occur.” (New York City Department of Health 11/1/2001) Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, questions the accuracy of Leighton’s and Callahan’s statements and accuses them of withholding some test results. (Cardwell 11/1/2001) Kathryn Freed, a New York City Council Member who represents Lower Manhattan, said she was not convinced by agency assurances, noting that firemen are already showing symptoms of emphysema, a terminal disease for which there is no cure. “Just because it doesn’t reach a certain level is really irrelevant when people are sick,” says Marc Ameruso, a member of the area’s community board. (Cardwell 11/1/2001)
Nicole Pollier, a legal intern at Center for Constitutional Rights, testifies before the Environment Committee of the New York City Council and discusses health concerns at the WTC recovery site. She says that the Center found that “virtually none of the people working at the WTC disaster site are or have been wearing any personal protective equipment,” which the organization attributes to a lack of organized training. Only 5-10 percent of the workers wear disposable dust masks, she said. Additionally, “workers leaving the site are not decontaminated, nor do they use the washing stations that have been set up at the perimeter of the site by volunteer organizations.” Pollier says the Center blames OSHA which has taken the position that the site’s designation as a “search and rescue” operation denies it the authority to enforce safety laws. There have been “no mandated training sessions, and no enforcement of personal protective equipment requirements or exposure monitoring requirements,” she explains. Instead, OSHA has played a consultative role as a technical adviser. Pollier says that the Center disagrees with OSHA’s position, calling attention to a 1991 directive entitled “OSHA Response to Significant Events of Potentially Catastrophic Consequences,” which states: “The OSH Act requires that OSHA respond to catastrophic events….” (New York City 11/1/2001)
The EPA uses a form letter to respond to inquiries from people who live and work in Manhattan asking how they should clean their interior spaces. The letter instructs them to follow the procedures outlined in the New York Department of Health’s September 17 advisory (see September 17, 2001). “The EPA does not have jurisdiction or oversight of indoor air quality or indoor cleanups,” the letter explains. “New York City (NYC) has the primary authority and responsibility for reoccupancy of buildings and health issues. Since you work very close to the WTC it is important that the recommendations of the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) on how to clean up be followed…. The NYCDOH fact sheet on the internet (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/alerts/wtc3.shtml) contains recommendations for people reoccupying commercial buildings and residents re-entering their homes. Should the need arise to investigate the requirements for remediation of your residence, the NYCDEP has compiled a list of asbestos investigators, remediation contractors and air monitoring firms.” (Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
The EPA will repeatedly claim that it does not have jurisdiction or oversight over indoor tests or cleanups of residences and businesses. Critics who disagree note that:
The EPA’s response to the 9/11 attacks were coordinated under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001), which requires that when the EPA delegates any tasks to state or local authorities, the agency ensures that their responses are in accordance with EPA standards (see 1972). Therefore, according to the NCP, the EPA does have jurisdiction over inside air.
Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, the EPA commenced the abatement of homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation had contaminated the surrounding area (see (August 2001)). Libby asbestos remediation commenced under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP). (Jenkins 7/4/2003 ) In Libby, the highest level of asbestos found in a home was 3,658 structures per square centimeter (s/cm (Chatfield and Kominsky 10/12/2001 ; Lyman 1/11/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 ) In December, the EPA will “fast-track” the Libby site to a place on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site after a request from Montana’s governor (see December 20, 2001). In New York, Governor Pataki will make no similar request for the areas affected by World Trade Center collapse. (Kupferman 2003 ; Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
The EPA is taking responsibility for the indoor environmental conditions at numerous contaminated sites across the US, including at Herculaneum, Missouri; McFarland, California; and Kellogg, Idaho. (Congressional Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler 1/7/2002)
The EPA has decontaminated more than 1400 homes and businesses in Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio after the buildings were illegally sprayed with the pesticide methyl parathion (see January 1995) (see April 1997) (see November 1996).
David Newman, of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, interviewed by Newsday, disagrees with the EPA’s position that asbestos levels have not been high enough to pose long term health risks. “While diseases such as asbestosis result from exposure to asbestos over long periods of time, asbestos-related cancers, such as mesothelioma, which have a 10- to 40-year latency period, can develop from low-level exposure to this killing dust,” Newman explains. (Virasami 11/9/2001 )
EPA Region 2 responds to an inquiry from a woman concerned about the asbestos levels in the building where her husband works, which is across the street from the World Trade Center site. The EPA informs her that “that the owner/manager of the building [should] follow the cleanup guidelines in the September 16 City of New York Public Notice (see September 16, 2001)…. In addition, the New York City Department of Health has a fact sheet (see September 17, 2001) on the internet… that contains recommendations for people re-occupying commercial buildings and residents re-entering their homes.” (Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
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 ) A censored version of the data is later released to the public in early 2002 (see Early 2002).
The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) receives documents from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the city’s Department of Health (DOH) that had been requested through the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The request was initially denied on grounds that the documents were related to an “on-going criminal investigation.” NYELJP receives them only after an appeal and repeated demands. The documents reveal that during spot testing the DEC’s monitors became clogged with dust and were not subsequently replaced or re-set as they should have been. The documents also contain NYC DOH test results showing that some of the air monitors located in City Hall offices and other spaces in downtown Manhattan had at times been “overloaded” with dust. Instead of recalibrating the equipment and re-testing, the department simply ceased testing. Rather than inform the public about the overload dust finding, the agency listed the results as “N.A.” on its website. (Kupferman 2003 )
Cate Jenkins, Ph.D., a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, writes in a memo to Monona Rossol of the Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety (ACTS) organization that the EPA is ignoring federal asbestos-abatement laws in buildings close to the World Trade Center site. The 22-year veteran of the agency says that EPA officials “effectively waived” the EPA’s “strict national regulations for removal and disposal of asbestos contaminated dust” by advising residents and commercial building managers in Lower Manhattan to follow the “extremely lenient (and arguably illegal) asbestos guidelines of the New York City Department of Health.” She notes that EPA testing discovered the presence of asbestos levels above the one percent “action level” in dust samples from at least 30 locations, some of which were located within five to seven blocks of Ground Zero. After the memo is reported in the New York Daily News, EPA officials will assert that Jenkins doesn’t understand the law (see (November 19, 2001)). (Jenkins 11/15/2001; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 )
People working and living in downtown Manhattan continue to be concerned about environmental conditions. For example, one resident, Catherine McVay Hughes, tells WABC News, “Last week, in our apartment where I had sealed my windows with energy efficient duct tape and had four large air filters running non-stop and plants, I could still smell the fires burning.” Another resident, Tammy Meltzer, likewise explains: “There is a lot of dust in the air that makes your eyes swell shut when it hits you. Your throat also becomes very sore.” (WABC 11/26/2001)
American Medical News reports that doctors in New York City are still treating large numbers of patients for respiratory conditions stemming from the World Trade Center disaster. About one-third of all New York City firefighters have symptoms of what is now termed the “WTC cough,” typified by persistent dry unproductive coughs, wheezing, sinus irritation and shortness of breath. One-fifth of responding firefighters also complain of GERD (gastroentero reflux disease) which doctors believe may have been caused by ingesting the pulverized concrete and glass that was present in the World Trade Center dust. “What you inhale, you also swallow,” explains David J. Prezant, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the New York City Fire Department. “Your entire tongue was coated with this stuff.” Doctors believe these health problems were caused in part by the shortcomings of protective breathing masks, which are not supposed to be worn for days on end. (Elliott 11/26/2001; Garrett and Ricks 9/10/2002; Garrett 9/30/2002)
Kathleen Callahan, deputy regional director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, testifies before the joint New York State Assembly Committees on Environmental Conservation, Health, and Labor. She reiterates past EPA assertions that WTC contaminants pose no long term risks to local residents. “We’ve tested for the presence of pollutants such as asbestos, fine particulate matter, lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxin, benzene, metals, PCBs and other chemicals and substances that could pose a threat to the public and workers at the site,” she says. “Fortunately, the vast majority of our tests find levels of these contaminants that pose no significant long term health risks to residents, business employees and visitors beyond Ground Zero. And despite recent press accounts which suggest otherwise, these findings have not changed. In fact, environmental conditions off the site have improved in recent weeks.” Callahan also says that people concerned about contamination in their homes “should follow the recommendations of the New York City Departments of Health and Environmental Protection on how to clean up properly” (see September 17, 2001). (Environmental Protection Agency 11/1/2001)
The Environmental Protection Agency outside air monitoring station at Stuyvesant High School records an asbestos level of 124 fibers per square millimeter, which significantly exceeds acceptable background levels. (Gonzalez 12/20/2001)
Cate Jenkins, a 22-year veteran Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee, writes an internal memo to Robert Dellinger, Director of the Hazardous Waste Identification Division, and Lillian Bagus, Chief of the Waste Identification Branch, in which she argues that the EPA should clean NYC homes and businesses contaminated by the WTC collapse. “The cleanup of all affected homes in Lower Manhattan should be performed by EPA or other governmental bodies at public expense, utilizing the methods in the NESHAP or as proposed by certified asbestos abatement experts and approved by EPA regional NESHAP coordinators as meeting all CAA requirements,” she says. “The criteria for areas receiving such cleanups should include an adequate margin of safety, possibly relating to distance zones around contaminated areas over 0.1 percent asbestos or even lower.” Jenkins’ memo also addresses EPA official statements that have been misleading and deceptive, noting that the EPA has claimed repeatedly that asbestos levels are safe even as they report sampling results which exceed the purported maximum “safe level” of one percent. (Jenkins 12/3/2001 ; Kazan-Allen 1/21/2002)
The Indoor and Built Environment Journal publishes a study by Dr. E. B. Ilgren, MD, which concludes that residents near the WTC site in downtown Manhattan “do not appear to be at risk of long term, asbestos—or metal—related disease but their homes must still be cleaned professionally to eliminate highly irritating, aerosolized dusts.” (Ilgren 12/2001)
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 ; Haughney 1/8/2002; Kupferman 2003 ; Lustgarten 8/15/2003)
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and NYC Health Commissioner Neal Cohen hold a joint press conference in which they state that vehicles contaminated with World Trade Center dust and debris would not be returned because cleaning the vehicles would be “too difficult.” And even if cars were cleaned, safety would be “inconclusive,” they explain. (Steinhauer 12/4/2001)
An article published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, titled, “Environmental Aftermath,” suggests that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers “may have serious long term environmental health effects on those in harm’s way, including children, office workers, rescuers and residents.” It cites “asbestos, lead and PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) present in the dust created by the Twin Towers collapse as among the most potentially serious lingering exposures to the community, including rescue workers, office workers and the more than 20,000 residents, and 3,000 children, who live within half a mile of Ground Zero.” (Environmental Health Perspectives 11/2001; Environmental Health Perspectives 12/4/2001)
The last of the WTC fires are finally extinguished. (ABC News 12/19/2001)
New York City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen says the vehicles affected by dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center “are contaminated” and should be condemned. “The cleanup of them is not practical, and I’ll do whatever I can in my authority and recommend to the mayor that they be condemned,” he explains. (CBS News 12/27/2001)
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 )
Joe Martyak, spokesman for EPA in Administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s office, tells MSNBC that “indoor air is beyond EPA’s jurisdiction.” (Lyman 1/11/2002) Martyak’s assertion is contradicted by recent EPA activities and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see After November 1, 2001).
The environmental consulting firm, H.A. Bader Associates, conducts several environmental tests at Fiterman Hall of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, (BMCC), located four blocks from the World Trade Center site (see October 1, 2001). The test results indicate “unusually high levels of dioxin in dust samples throughout the building” that are “levels 20 to 90 orders of magnitude above results from other buildings where… [the] firm has tested or cleaned in Lower Manhattan.” An EPA toxicologist who reviews the firm’s data will tell the New York Daily News in February that he believes the levels in the building are “below EPA levels of concern.” (Gonzalez 2/7/2002 )
Attorney Michael Barasch tells the Associated Press that he has filed legal notices on behalf of 700 firefighters and 300 police officers, fire marshals and emergency medical technicians, who have developed respiratory conditions after working at the World Trade Center disaster site. The legal notices are meant to preserve the plaintiffs’ right to sue the City of New York at a later date on the premise that the city failed to follow federal regulations and provide the appropriate respirators to the rescue workers at the disaster site. (Ritter 1/13/2002; Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 )
EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow tells the Washington Post: “There is nothing we have found that is at a significant level that would say you should not come here to live or work.” (Haughney 1/8/2002)
EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin agrees to investigate the World Trade Center environmental case at the request of US Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. (US Congress 6/25/2002)
Nina Habib, an EPA spokeswoman, acknowledges that the thousands of asbestos tests performed by the EPA so far have been of outdoor air only. She asserts that the results from those tests were “indicative of what’s in people’s apartments as well.” (Jenkins 7/4/2003 )
Bonnie Bellow, spokeswoman for the EPA’s region II office in New York tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the EPA is not responsible for testing homes and businesses. “That’s not our job and we have no policies or procedures for doing that type of testing,” she claims. “We’ve never had to worry about asbestos in houses before.” (Schneider 1/13/2002; Schneider 1/14/2002) Bellow’s statement is contradicted by the EPA’s record and the agency’s obligations under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see After November 1, 2001).
A mobile health unit at Ground Zero offers free health examinations for immigrant workers and day laborers hired to clean office buildings in Lower Manhattan. The medical team, headed by Dr. Steven Markowitz, conducts pulmonary testing of workers, collects blood and urine samples, and interviews them about their work history. By March 1, the mobile unit will examine 415 workers, primarily from Colombia and Ecuador. Markowitz later tells Newsday that workers said employers had provided them with mops, rags and bags for removing inches of dust from buildings. “Most said they were not given protective equipment,” Newsday reports. Some workers who brought their own respirators said employers told them not to wear such protection.” (Ramirez 4/28/2002)
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)
The Civil Service Employees Association tests a dust sample taken from a window air conditioner located at the Department of Motor Vehicles offices and finds 8 percent asbestos. (Gonzalez 9/11/2003)
R. Radhakrishnan, Director of the Asbestos Control Program in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sends letters to owners of buildings located within the zone of WTC contamination requesting “copies of the environmental hazard assessments including bulk sampling results and air monitoring results and a summary of cleanup activities” at their buildings within 5 days. The letter recalls that they had been advised in September (see September 16, 2001) to have their buildings professionally tested for asbestos and other contaminants. If tests proved positive for any dangerous contaminants, they were to have had them abated professionally. The letter also says that building owners “are responsible for the cleaning of building exteriors, grounds, and common areas.” The letter contains no reference to the federal regulations that govern asbestos and other hazardous materials. (Jenkins 7/4/2003 ) The DEP makes no effort to enforce compliance with this request. By September 2002, only 354 of the roughly 1900 buildings that were required to provide the agency with data and documentation will have responded to Radhakrishnan’s request. Of those, 31 buildings will say they found dangerous levels of asbestos requiring professional abatement. Others will provide records that are incomplete or inadequate. The DEP does not issue a single citation for building owners or managers that do not respond. (Office of Representative Jerrold Nadler 2/10/2003; Gonzalez 9/11/2003)
EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow states, “Based on our findings, and now really more than 10,000 samples of a wide range of substances, we have found no significant long term risk posed by the outdoor air.” (Watson 2/7/2002)
The New York Law Journal reports that the Legal Aid Society’s offices, located adjacent to the destroyed World Trade Center at 90 Church Street, “are so contaminated with asbestos, mercury and other poisons that the building’s interior will have to be stripped to the slab, cleaned and rebuilt.” (Perrotta 2/1/2002; Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 )
By this date, more than two-thirds of the 62 rescue workers who came from Menlo Park, California, have complained of respiratory problems. (Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman 2/2002 ; Mercury News (San Jose ) 2/4/2002; Associated Press 10/29/2003)
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