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Context of 'September 26, 2001: Samples Indicate High Lead Levels near Ground Zero'

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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)).

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)

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)

Three of 10 samples taken by the EPA near the attack site indicate elevated levels of lead. (Haughney 1/8/2002)

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)

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.
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet “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.”
bullet 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.
bullet 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).
bullet “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)

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 pdf file)

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 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 pdf file)

The EPA Office of Research and Development releases a comprehensive study on pollution in and around Ground Zero titled, “Exposure and Human Health Evaluation of Airborne Pollution from the World Trade Center Disaster.” The study concludes that the majority of residents and employees who returned to homes and offices after September 17 were “unlikely to suffer short-term or adverse health effects” from contaminants in the air. However the study warns that the thousands of people who were caught in the huge billowing dust clouds immediately after the towers collapsed, or who inhaled the air near the WTC site a few days after the attack, were “at risk for immediate acute [and possibly chronic] respiratory and other types of symptoms.” On page 77 of the report, the authors reveal that recorded dioxin levels from September through November were extremely high. For example, between October 12 and 29, a monitoring station on Park Row near City Hall Park recorded dioxin levels that averaged 5.6 parts per trillion/per cubic meter of air. This level is almost six times greater than the highest dioxin level ever recorded in the US, the report notes. The heaviest concentrations of dioxins were found at Ground Zero where concentrations “ranging from about 10 to 170” parts per trillion were recorded during the period between September 23 through November 21. Again the report observes that this figure is “between 100 and 1,500 times higher than typically found in urban air.” David Carpenter, MD, a researcher at State University of New York, tells the New York Daily News, “Those air levels are outrageous. There’s a very significant health danger here.” (Gonzales 12/31/2002)

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