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Environmental Impact of 9/11 Attacks

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

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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)

During the first 25 days of the rescue/recovery effort at the World Trade Center site, 800 policemen are provided with only paper masks. Printed on each of the masks is a disclaimer stating: “Warning, this mask does not protect your lungs.” (Davidsdottir 6/5/2002)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 office in Edison, NJ, dispatches three On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) within minutes of the first plane crashing into the WTC Tower. (Meagher and Stapleton 10/21/2001) The OSCs are job functions specific to the National Contingency Plan (NCP) and therefore indicate that the NCP is in effect and that the EPA is acting under its authority. The OSCs will be involved in the agency’s response to the disaster at least until October 2002. (Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002; Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file) But the EPA will imply in later statements and documents that the NCP had not been put into effect after the attacks (see August 21, 2003).

The Federal Aviation Administration closes down New York Metro area airports. (CNN 9/12/2001)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey orders all bridges and tunnels in the area of New York City closed. (CNN 9/12/2001)

New York’s primary elections, which are in progress, are postponed. (CNN 9/12/2001)

Governor of New York George Pataki closes all state government offices. (CNN 9/12/2001)

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urges New Yorkers to stay at home and orders the evacuation of the area south of Canal Street. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; CNN 9/12/2001)

CNN reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing emergency-response teams as a precaution. (CNN 9/12/2001)

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announces that the New York City subway and bus service has been partially restored. (CNN 9/12/2001)

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urges New Yorkers to stay home the following day. (CNN 9/12/2001)

Mayor Giuliani announces that New York City schools will be closed the following day. He explains that power is out on west side of Manhattan and that NYC Department of Health (DOH) tests indicate that no airborne chemical agents were released during attack. (CNN 9/12/2001)

US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announces his agency’s emergency response: “CDC has a team on the ground taking air, dust and water samples. This is of utmost concern to health officials. Also, Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams will ensure that the process of removing bodies is conducted as safely as possible, and identifications occur as efficiently as possible. The heavy dust that has coated Lower Manhattan following the attack also poses respiratory risks, particularly to our children and elderly citizens. We are well aware that New York has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the nation, and CDC officials are working with New York authorities to conduct tests and protect our vulnerable residents from high levels of dust in the air.” (US Health and Human Services 9/12/2001)

The City of New York hires LZA Associates and Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers to put together a team of engineers and contractors to inspect the World Trade Center and surrounding structures in order to help ensure the safety of rescue workers. (Powell 11/2001)

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

New York City construction firms begin cleaning up debris at the World Trade Center site that was strewn over a 12-block area. (Chartock 9/12/2001)

US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announces after meetings in New York with NY State Governor George Pataki and NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) will send 35 EIS officers to New York hospitals to assist “health officials and physicians monitor diseases, conduct a medical and health needs assessment, identify existing health problems, such as dust or allergic reactions, determine if there are new medical needs, and if already deployed resources are better used elsewhere.” (US Department of Health and Human Services 9/14/2001)

The US Department of Health and Human Services announces that it has released $126 million for disaster related expenses. The figure includes $10.4 million for environmental hazard control to pay for worker safety measures, technical assistance for responding to hazardous environmental exposures, and potential needs related to exposure to contaminants. (US Department of Health and Human Services 9/21/2001)

By this date, the EPA has set up approximately 15 wash stations for personnel and vehicles with signs posted instructing rescue workers to wear respirators and to take proper safety precautions. (Environmental Protection Agency 9/22/2001)

Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist with Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, writes a press release criticizing the New York City Department of Health (DOH)‘s WTC disaster cleanup guidelines (see September 17, 2001). The press release, co-signed by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, points out that the DOH’s guidelines could “cause people to take needless risks.” Rossol takes issue with a September 20 New York Times article which suggested that residents could adequately clean up their apartments with a $3 mask and a broom, noting that “[t]aking actions like these can damage health and may even shorten lives in the future.” She insists “methods chosen to clean homes and offices must depend on analysis of the dust and the amounts present.” (NY Environmental Law and Justice Project 9/22/2001)

New York State Governor George E. Pataki announces that New York State will receive $8.5 million in federal funds. $3.5 million of the grant will be provided to the state over a period of five years for initiatives addressing any respiratory impacts of the WTC collapse. The remaining $5 million will be available immediately to support environmental monitoring in New York City, asthma surveillance, health interventions and asthma education. (New York 10/9/2001; Matthews 10/10/2001)

The Stuyvesant High School Parents’ Association holds a meeting to address concerns about health and safety conditions at the school. People attending the meeting complain that the Board of Education has failed to address a number of issues. Other topics that are discussed at the meeting include symptoms of illness among the students, tests showing an elevated level of particulates, and evidence that information publicly disclosed by the EPA does not reveal the actual levels of contaminants around Ground Zero. (Stuyvesant High School Parents' Association 11/13/2001; Gonzalez 12/20/2001)

Cate Jenkins, Ph.D., a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, writes in a memo to Monona Rossol of the Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety (ACTS) organization that the EPA is ignoring federal asbestos-abatement laws in buildings close to the World Trade Center site. The 22-year veteran of the agency says that EPA officials “effectively waived” the EPA’s “strict national regulations for removal and disposal of asbestos contaminated dust” by advising residents and commercial building managers in Lower Manhattan to follow the “extremely lenient (and arguably illegal) asbestos guidelines of the New York City Department of Health.” She notes that EPA testing discovered the presence of asbestos levels above the one percent “action level” in dust samples from at least 30 locations, some of which were located within five to seven blocks of Ground Zero. After the memo is reported in the New York Daily News, EPA officials will assert that Jenkins doesn’t understand the law (see (November 19, 2001)). (Jenkins 11/15/2001; Gonzalez 11/20/2001 pdf file)

New York City School Board member Irving Hamer Jr. recommends that Stuyvesant High School’s air ducts be cleaned during its spring break beginning March 28, 2002. (Environmental Protection Agency National Ombudsman 3/27/2002)

Recovery efforts end at the World Trade Center site. (Ibarguen 5/31/2002)

Cate Jenkins PhD, a senior chemist in the EPA’s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, writes an open memo recommending that New York City residents who believe their apartments were contaminated as a result of the WTC destruction have their carpets and upholstery tested using the “Millette ultrasonication” test method, which she explains is far superior to the micro-vac method currently being recommended by the EPA. She also repeats her earlier criticism of EPA Region 2’s decision (see (September 12, 2001)) to use the 1 percent asbestos level as its “level of concern.” (Jenkins 6/9/2002 pdf file)

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) completes an interim report on the EPA’s response to the environmental disaster ensuing from the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center towers. (Herzfeld 3/20/2003) The EPA OIG’s final report will be released in August 2003 (see August 21, 2003).

Congress passes the 2003 omnibus spending package which contains approximately $90 million to monitor the health of workers who took part in the World Trade Center recovery effort. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which controls the money, delays giving the funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of a dispute over how to distribute the aid. (Gittrich 6/10/2003)

Kathleen Callahan, an EPA assistant regional administrator, rejects the New York City firefighters union’s request to expand the EPA’s cleanup program (see May 8, 2002) for residential spaces in Lower Manhattan to four firehouses in Lower Manhattan. “We have not undertaken any cleanup of firehouses,” Callahan explains at an environmental symposium at Fordham University. “The program that we have is strictly residential and therefore, we would not do firehouses.” (Infinity Broadcasting Corp 3/12/2003)


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