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Environmental Impact of 9/11 Attacks

Misuse of EPA standards, guidelines and benchmarks

Project: Environmental Impact of the 9/11 Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Derek, paxvector

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The Asbestos Work Group, a joint effort between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), concludes that “[e]xcessive cancer risks… have been demonstrated at all [asbestos] fiber concentrations studied to date. Evaluation of all available human data provides no evidence for a threshold or for a ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure.” In very clear terms, the study adds that “there is no level of exposure below which clinical effects do not occur.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4/1980 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

The EPA issues a final rule outlining new requirements for asbestos abatement projects. The rule notes that even at low concentrations, asbestos is not safe: “Available evidence supports the conclusion that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos…. This conclusion is consistent with present theory of cancer etiology and is further supported by the many documented cases where low or short-term exposure has been shown to cause asbestos-related disease…. Most occupational studies have been conducted on populations exposed to high airborne concentrations of asbestos for long periods of time. However, short-term exposures have also been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, there are many documented cases of mesothelioma linked to extremely brief exposures to high concentrations….” [Environmental Protection Agency, 4/25/1986 pdf file; Jenkins, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues its Interim Asbestos NESHAP Enforcement Guidance on “Friable Asbestos,” which clarifies the definition and acceptable use of “asbestos-containing” materials. The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), issued in 1973, defined “asbestos-containing materials,” or ACMs, as products that contain more than 1 percent asbestos by weight. Citing the original document, the guidance explains that NESHAP’s purpose was to “ban the use of materials which contain significant quantities of asbestos, but to allow the use of materials which would (1) contain trace amounts of asbestos that occur in numerous natural substances, and (2) include very small quantities of asbestos (less than 1 percent) added to enhance the material’s effectiveness.” However, the guidance stresses, the “EPA NESHAP definition of 1 percent by weight was not established to be a health-based standard.” [Stewart, 4/18/1989 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

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]

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Key Events

The EPA issues a pamphlet answering common questions on the Asbestos NESHAP regulations (see April 18, 1989). One question asks: “Is there a numeric emission limit for the release of asbestos fibers during renovations or demolitions in the asbestos NESHAP regulation?” The EPA answers that although there is no numeric emission limit, NESHAP “does specify zero visible emissions to the outside air from activity relating to the transport and disposal of asbestos waste.” In other words, if any emissions are visible during transport or disposal, the level of asbestos is unsafe. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/1990]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Key Events

The EPA explains in a document setting guidelines for the decontamination of demolition sites that the “site must be cleaned up to background levels of asbestos contamination.” (The term, “background level” refers to the typical asbestos level of non-contaminated soil in that area.) The EPA adds that in order to “clean up the site to background levels, it will probably be necessary to remove all the asbestos contaminated soil. The contaminated soil should be treated and disposed of as asbestos-containing waste material.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 6/29/1994; Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

The EPA issues an advisory specifying the methodology that should be used to test for asbestos in air samples under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). The guidance recommends that transmission electron microscopy (TEM) be used rather than the older, less sensitive polarized light microscopy (PLM) method, which cannot detect ultrafine fibers below .25 micrometers. The advisory also states that when a PLM test is negative for asbestos, the sample should be retested using the TEM method. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/1/1994]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

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]

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards

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

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Asbestos removal in Libby, Montana

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; CNN, 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; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 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; Reuters, 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.” [Newsday, 8/23/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

The 47-story WTC Building 7 collapses. It housed New York City’s emergency command center, offices of the FBI, CIA, and various commercial offices. The collapse of the building buries an electrical substation containing more than 130,000 gallons of oil from transformers and high-voltage lines—most of which contain low levels of hazardous PCBs—that provides fuel for a fire that will burn for more than three months contaminating the city’s air with a number of toxins including dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans, and other polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Hang, 11/26/2001; New York Daily News, 11/27/2001; New York Daily News, 11/29/2001; Stanford Report, 12/5/2001; Environmental Law, 12/26/2001; Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 1/9/2002; Kupferman, 2003 pdf file]

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, EPA's reponse, Rescue/recovery workers, Key Events

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).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards

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 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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 pdf file; 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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Environmental Protection Agency, Cate Jenkins, PhD.

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, Key Events

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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Joel A. Miele Sr.

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Government statements, Key Events

Several government experts testify at a New York City Council meeting on environmental conditions following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. [New York Daily News, 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. [New York Daily News, 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. [New York Daily News, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathryn Freed, Joel R Kupferman, Kathleen Callahan, Jessica Leighton, PhD.

Category Tags: Indoor remediation, Misuse of EPA standards, Government statements, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 2’s legal counsel advises in a draft document (obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through a Freedom of Information Act): “[AHERA] was developed to determine whether school buildings where asbestos was used are safe. Under this test, an air monitor pumps room air through a special filter for a specified amount of time. Then the number of asbestos ‘structures,’ or fibers, on a square millimeter of the filter are counted. If there are fewer than 70 such structures, the air is judged to be acceptable. EPA has used this same school-based standard to evaluate the safety of outside air in downtown Manhattan.” [Jenkins, 3/11/2002 pdf file] The EPA counsel’s statement is a misinterpretation of AHERA (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards

Thomas R. Frieden, MD, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, testifies before the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and says: “The data from air quality tests thus far have been, in general, reassuring. None of the testing done to date has shown results that would indicate long term health impacts.” But his assessment is based on a flawed interpretation of the AHERA standard. He incorrectly (see October 3, 2001-March 1, 2004) says in the testimony that “the clearance/reoccupancy standard for indoor air in schools after an asbestos abatement project… is 70 structures of asbestos per square millimeter.” [New York City, 2/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Thomas R. Frieden

Category Tags: Misuse of EPA standards, Government statements, Key Events

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