EPA Ignores Dust Pollution from World Trade Center


The implosion of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers sent clouds of carcinogenic dust across New York City. These towers were built in the late 1970s, and asbestos was one of many different carcinogenic materials that are contained in the buildings.

Everyone familiar with construction and the carcinogens contained in high-rise structures immediately knew that there was a grave risk for all who were “downwind” from the burning and dustification of the building.

Despite the obvious, Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said a week after the attacks: “I am glad to reassure the people of New York … that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink,”

The Jan. 11, 2002, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle reprinted a Washington Post article titled, “Residents near ground zero worry about toxic debris.” The author, Christine Haughney, reported that “those who live or work downtown report strikingly similar symptoms: nosebleeds, sore throats, bronchial infections and an endless hacking cough. … About one-fourth of the city’s firefighters have complained of severe coughing after working at ground zero, and more than a thousand have filed notices of claims against the city.

“Last week, four Port Authority police officers were reassigned from the site after they tested positive for elevated mercury levels in their blood. … Dozens of students at nearby Stuyvesant High School have complained of rashes, nosebleeds, headaches and respiratory infections. Three teachers have left because of respiratory problems.”

The article continues: “For a while after Sept. 11, George Tabb and his wife tried to stick it out in their apartment north of the World Trade Center, tried to ignore his twice-nightly asthma attacks and her headaches. Eventually, they moved in with Tabb’s stepfather….

“But Tabb still goes home to pick up his mail, and within 20 minutes the metallic taste returns to his mouth, and the wheezing. ‘All of a sudden, boom, I’ve got a nosebleed, the asthma, a headache,’ he said.

“Recently, Tabb received evidence that the air in his apartment may be as dangerous as he suspects. Independent tests-results of which are disputed by the city-found that dust taken from an air vent in his apartment building’s hallway contained 555 times [!] the suggested acceptable level for asbestos. Samples from a bathroom vent show dangerous levels of fiberglass. ‘No one knows what was burning down there’ at ground zero, he said. ‘I am concerned that in five years or 10 years, I’m going to be part of a cancer cluster.'”

Yet the EPA has refused to warn people of the hazards or even admit the potential of hazards to life itself. The EPA has repeatedly told residents the air is safe to breathe.

The article goes on to explain: “But the EPA also found more troubling results, which it did not release until after the nonprofit New York Environmental Law and Justice Project filed a Freedom of Information Act request. These tests found elevated levels of dioxin, PCBs, lead and chromium, all toxic substances, in the air, soil and water around the site.

In a Sept. 26 EPA test, for example, three of 10 samples near the attack site showed elevated readings for lead. An Oct. 11 EPA test in the ground zero area found benzene, a colorless liquid that evaporates quickly but can cause leukemia in long-term exposure, measured 58 times above the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s limit.

Those results weren’t released until late October. These materials, under Proposition 65 in California, are “known to the State of California to cause cancer,” but obviously not to the EPA!

In referring to the EPA’s statements, the article quotes Joel Kupferman, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Justice Project: “‘They’ve [EPA] created this false climate that things are safe,’ he said.

“Alerted to concerns about Tabb’s building, he said, ‘the project hired an independent industrial hygienist to conduct tests of surfaces there on Dec. 3, using methods published by the American Society for Testing and Materials. The tests found the presence of settled asbestos 555 times above the suggested acceptable level.’ … Scientists with HP Environmental Inc. of Reston, Va., warn that the asbestos dust in Lower Manhattan is so finely pulverized that the EPA’s more conventional tests may not pick it up.”

Cancer from these known carcinogenic dusts released by the WTC towers implosion takes 20 to 30 years to develop. From my understanding of the risks from carcinogenic materials that I and other house painters have been exposed to during the course of work (according to the International Association for Research on Cancer), exposures 555 times the legally permissible level may well create a catastrophe hundreds of times more destructive to human lives than the initial implosion!

The sad fact is that if the Environmental Protective Agency had lived up to its name, future deaths from cancer and other preventable diseases could have been prevented. But the EPA was more concerned with protecting the financial environment of the employers in the area (Wall Street) and of the companies that produce buildings made of carcinogens.

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