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Context of '(September 12, 2001-September 29, 2001): About 35 Percent of Tests in New York Show High Asbestos Levels'

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NESHAP regulations require use of the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) method to determine whether asbestos-derived wastes are asbestos free: “Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shall be used to analyze the output material for the presence of asbestos.” In order to be considered “asbestos-free,” TEM results must indicate that the waste contains no asbestos. [US Code, Vol. 40, sec. 61.155] The TEM method is far superior to polarized light microscopy (PLM) testing, a less expensive method that is often used to test for the presence of asbestos in bulk building material. The PLM method is limited by relatively weak magnification (100-400x) and it is sometimes unable to distinguish asbestos material from other materials like tar and petroleum binding components that may also be present in the building material. As a result of these deficiencies, the PLM method cannot reliably detect asbestos at concentrations of less than 1 percent and it is incapable of detecting asbestos fibers that are less than .25 micrometers in width. [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file] TEM uses 20,000X or greater magnifications as well as powerful chemical (EDXA) and mineralogical (SAEDP) tools. Not only can TEM differentiate asbestos from non-asbestos fibers, but it can also distinguish one species of asbestos from another. [International Asbestos Testing Lab, 1/12/2006]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

According to documents that the City of New York later provides to New York State, between eighteen and fifty-two percent of New York City’s transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests (see November 20, 1990) performed during this period indicate asbestos levels of over 70 structures/sq. millimeter (s/mm2). Many of these high test results are based on air samples taken several blocks from Ground Zero. [Environmental Protection Agency, 7/15/2004 pdf file] This figure is similar to the one that Walter E. Mugdan, the Regional Counsel for EPA Region 2, will provide in a speech to the New York Bar Association in January 2002. “Around 35 percent of the samples of bulk dust taken in Lower Manhattan in the first few days after the collapse exceeded the 1 percent level,” he will say.

Entity Tags: Walter Mugdan

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

EPA and OSHA announce that the majority of air and dust samples monitored in New York’s financial district “do not indicate levels of concern for asbestos” and that ambient air quality “meets OSHA standards.” The two agencies also say that OSHA has new data indicating that indoor air quality in downtown buildings “will meet standards.” The agencies’ conclusions are based on samples taken on September 13. “OSHA staff walked through New York’s Financial District… wearing personal air monitors and collected data on potential asbestos exposure levels. All but two samples contained no asbestos.… Air samples taken… inside buildings in New York’s financial district were negative for asbestos. Debris samples collected outside buildings on cars and other surfaces contained small percentages of asbestos, ranging from 2.1 to 3.3—slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material.” [Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 9/14/2001] But the EPA improperly implies that the one percent level is a safety benchmark (see (September 12, 2001)), even though it had previously acknowledged that airborne asbestos particles are unsafe at any level (see September 14, 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).

Entity Tags: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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)). [Newsday, 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).

Entity Tags: Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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. [New York Daily News, 8/14/2002; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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