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Context of 'November 21, 1999: EPA Begins Investigation into Asbestos Contamination by Mine'

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With the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the scope of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) is extended to cover hazardous substance releases in addition to oil spills. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/23/2004] The NCP is a component of the US government’s National Response System, “a multi-layered system of individuals and teams from local, state, and federal agencies, industry, and other organizations that share expertise and resources to ensure that oil spill control and cleanup activities are timely and efficient” and that threats to human health and the environment are minimized. [Environmental Protection Agency, 4/19/2004] When in effect, the plan is administered by the EPA, which is required by law to follow specific procedures and guidelines, including designating an “On-Scene Coordinator” (OSC), who is responsible for directing response efforts and coordinating all other efforts at the scene of a discharge or release. In the event that the EPA delegates any tasks to state or local authorities, the EPA is responsible for ensuring that the response is in accordance with EPA standards. [US Code, Vol. 40, sec. 300; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

1995: Study Examines Vermiculite Mining

A study of the health effects of vermiculite mining, a mineral which is sometimes found with asbestos (as in the case of the vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana (see November 18, 1999)), finds that soils with an asbestos level of only 0.001 percent can result in air concentrations of 0.01 fibers per milliliter (f/mL), if disturbed. This exceeds the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL, the typical background levels of asbestos in outdoor air of 0.000002 f/mL, and the typical background levels in indoor air of 0.000003 f/mL (PCM). [Addison-Lynch, 6/1995; Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file; Agency for Toxic Substances And Disease Registry, 10/9/2003]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/18/1999]

Entity Tags: W.R. Grace Co., Kootenai Development Co.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Three days after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on asbestos contamination of homes in Libby, Montana (see November 18, 1999), the EPA dispatches an emergency response team to conduct tests to determine the level of asbestos contamination. For decades, local, state and federal agencies had ignored the known hazards at the Libby mine. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/2/2000; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/15/2000] Twenty-three of the 73 outdoor air samples the EPA team will take at various locations in Libby are found to contain elevated levels of tremolite—a type of asbestos that is extremely carcinogenic due to its needle-like and sharply pointed fibers which easily penetrate the lining of the lungs. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/2/2000] Random air sampling inside the homes of Libby residents reveals that 11 to 23 percent of the selected homes have detectable levels of asbestos. The average level of asbestos inside Libby homes is found to be 0.0024 fibers per milliliter (f/mL), which exceeds many times the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL. [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The EPA begins removing asbestos from private homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation contaminated the surrounding area (see November 21, 1999). The EPA conducts the cleanup operation under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972). [Jenkins, 12/3/2001 pdf file; Jenkins, 1/11/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency, 7/26/2004] In some cases, it will be necessary for the EPA to take extreme measures to ensure that asbestos levels in certain homes meet EPA standards. For example, the agency will have to completely demolish one home and rebuild it after the standard procedures of replacing carpets, upholstered furniture, and professional abatement fail to reduce the presence of asbestos to an acceptable level. [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman tells residents at a town hall meeting in Libby, Montana, a designated Superfund Site where the EPA is remedying asbestos contamination (see (August 2001)), “It has never been our plan to look to you to pay for any part of this cleanup, including the cleanup of residential properties.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA Region 2 decides that it will use a benchmark of 1 percent in determining whether the asbestos level found in outdoor dust samples collected in and around the WTC site constitutes a “level of concern.” The figure apparently derives from the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) (see April 18, 1989), which defines products containing more than 1 percent asbestos by weight as “asbestos-containing materials” (ACM). The NESHAP one percent definition is not based on safety, but rather is the detection limit of the Polarized Light Method (PLM) for determining asbestos levels (see August 23, 1996 and see November 20, 1990). The EPA will be heavily criticized for selecting this percentage as its “level of concern” benchmark. Critics will argue:
bullet The one percent value is arbitrary because it is not based on safety. Furthermore, it was meant to be applied only to solid asbestos-containing products that do not release emissions (like dust).
bullet As the EPA has previously acknowledged, there is no safe exposure level to asbestos (see April 25, 1986) (see April 18, 1989).
bullet Measuring dust by percentage weight does not allow one to accurately assess the risk to public health because it does not determine the number of asbestos structures in a given area. For example, a sidewalk coated with 4 inches of dust containing .5 percent asbestos is much more of a health risk than a tablespoon’s worth of dust on the ground containing 2 percent asbestos because the former obviously has many more structures of asbestos. A person walking on the street would inhale more asbestos fibers walking through the 4 inches of asbestos-contaminated dust than stepping on just the tablespoon’s worth. [Jenkins, 6/9/2002 pdf file] In fact, the EPA has previously acknowledged in an official statement to the public that levels “of 1 percent or less could present a risk where there is enough activity to stir up soil and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne” (see June 18, 2001). Additionally, a study in 1995 on the health effects of vermiculite found that soils with an asbestos level of only 0.001 percent can result in air concentrations of 0.01 fibers per milliliter, which exceeds many times the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL (see 1995) that corresponds to a cancer risk factor of 10

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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:
bullet 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.
bullet 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 pdf file] 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 pdf file; MSNBC, 1/11/2002; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file] 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 pdf file; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]
bullet 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]
bullet 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).

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Montana Governor Judy Martz announces that she will use the Silver Bullet option to fast-track the designation of Libby, Montana (see (August 2001)) as an EPA Superfund site and put it on the National Priorities list. The designation makes Libby eligible for special funding from industry sources. [State of Montana, 12/20/2001; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Judy Martz

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

Dr. Cate Jenkins writes a memorandum comparing the data from a major asbestos-contaminated site in Libby, Montana—where the EPA tested and cleaned homes (see (August 2001)) —to that of the WTC disaster site where the EPA has so far refused to take responsibility for the abatement of private residences. She argues that Lower Manhattan should be designated a Superfund site, as was Libby, Montana (see December 20, 2001), in order to reduce the public’s exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos, fiberglass, fine particulates, mercury and lead. Superfund designation would shift the financial burden from individual citizens to the government. In the memo, she also summarizes the calculated cancer risks for people occupying Lower Manhattan buildings. [Jenkins, 1/11/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Cate Jenkins, PhD.

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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