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Context of 'September 23, 2001: EPA Finds High Benzene Levels in WTC Plume'

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The EPA issues a publication which states that in the event of a terrorist attack causing the release of hazardous substances, the EPA would respond under the authority of the NCP (see 1972). “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has statutory authorities and responsibilities to prepare for and respond to emergencies involving oil and hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants, which include chemical, biological and radiological materials that could also be components of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)…. EPA carries out its preparedness and response efforts primarily under the mandate of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) and the Radiological Response Program.” (Environmental Protection Agency 5/2000 pdf file)

Smoke from the WTC tower collapses covers lower Manhattan on the day of 9/11, and for days afterward.Smoke from the WTC tower collapses covers lower Manhattan on the day of 9/11, and for days afterward. [Source: ABC News/ Associated Press]The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) release a joint statement asserting that the air in downtown New York City is safe to breathe. “New samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern,” the agencies claim. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/16/2001) However, the government’s statements are based on ambient air quality tests using outdated technologies. (Schneider 1/14/2002) Furthermore, it will later be learned that the press release was heavily edited under pressure from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Critical passages in the original draft were either deleted or modified to downplay public health risks posed by contaminants that were released into the air during the collapse of the World Trade Center. (Environmental Protection Agency 8/21/2003 pdf file; Ramirez 8/26/2003) In late October, the New York Daily News will obtain internal EPA documents containing information that had been withheld from the public. One document says that “dioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead, and chromium are among the toxic substances detected… sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” (Gonzalez 10/26/2001) Later, in October, it will be reported that thousands of rescue workers and residents are experiencing respiratory problems that experts attribute to the toxic smoke flume and ultra fine dust. (CNN 10/29/2001; Dreher 10/29/2001; Ramirez 10/30/2001; BBC 10/31/2001)

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)


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