Danger of Asbestos Fallout
Analysis by Erik Moeller
10:21pm Wed Sep 12 '01 (Modified on 3:02pm Sun Sep 16 '01)
Independent Media Center
After the WTC has been blown to pieces, questions about short- and long-term health effects of the explosion must be asked. Health effects of asbestos can include asbestosis, lung cancer and other diseases, depending on the concentration. How much asbestos was in the WTC? Which health effects will it cause, now that it is all over New York City?
The asbestos fiber was a common protection against fire and heat in many products, especially building components, until its heavily toxic effects became known. The American Lung Association warns that "if asbestos should become airborne and is inhaled, it can remain in the lungs for a long period of time, producing the risk for severe health problems several years later". The incubation time can last up to 30 years. Health effects can include asbestosis, lung cancer and other diseases, depending on the concentration. How much asbestos was in the WTC? Which health effects will it cause, now that it is all over New York City?
Current images from New York suggest extremely heavy and wide-spread fallout from the destroyed buildings. The question of whether asbestos was used in the building, and how much, therefore seems to be of high significance. The WTC was built from 1966-1971. The fact that asbestos is carcinogenic received wide-spread publicity in the seventies, and asbestos was still used in schools well into the seventies (see American Spectator article below). So it seemed reasonable to me to assume that asbestos was still used, and here's what I found through a Google search (I checked the first 6 pages, if anyone wants to continue):
[on 1993 WTC bombing:]
"Wood, who helped with the investigation, says that he was not allowed onto the blast site because loose debris and asbestos made it hazardous."
"WR Grace Asbestos containing insulation was used at the World Trade Center (WTC). James Cintani stated that Grace Vermiculite did not contain asbestos. Unfortunately this was not true this material was 2-5 percent asbestos. 100,000 80 pound bags of this vermiculite was used in the WTC. In addition 9,150 pounds of MonoKote 3 was used at the WTC. Monokote 3 was about 20 percent asbestos. Therefore in total about 201,183 pounds of pure asbestos fiber from Grace was used in the WTC."
Unfortunately, Grace was not the only supplier:
British Asbestos Newsletter
Issue 23 : Spring 1996
"In December T&N, formerly the largest asbestos company in Britain, reached a favorable settlement with the Port Authority (PA) of New York and New Jersey, the body responsible for JFK, La Guardia and Newark airports and the World Trade Center. The PA had brought a $600m lawsuit against 37 defendants, including T&N, for asbestos contamination of municipal buildings."
Contract WTC-115.310 - The World Trade Center Removal and Disposal of Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles and Other Incidental Asbestos-Containing Building Materials Via Work Order Estimate Range: $1,000,000 annually Bids due Tuesday, October 17, 2000 [emphasis mine].
May 5 - 11, 2001
"Chalk up one victory for insurers in the escalating asbestos-claims mOlOe: the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has lost a 10-year-old court battle to get its insurers to pay more than $600 million for removing asbestos from its properties, including the World Trade Center and New York's airports. The judge ruled that asbestos abatement costs by themselves do not constitute 'physical loss or damage' under the Port Authority's all-risk policies. The agency is considering an appeal." [emphasis mine]
[interesting overview on asbestos problem]
Copyright 1989 by The American Spectator
"Coming soon to a school or office near you: a life-saving innovation that could kill you, designed to correct a problem that doesn't exist, by removing materials that aren't dangerous until somebody tries to remove them. And guess who's going to pay for it." ... "For example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expecting to pay about $1 billion for the abatement of just the World Trade Center and LaGuardia Airport. (New York City law requires abatement if renovation work is being done, as it is at these buildings.) ..."
Based on this information, it can be said with reasonable certainty that several tons of asbestos were in the World Trade Center. With the dust of the WTC now clouding the city, contamination is very likely, but measurings of the dust should be taken before jumping to any conclusions. After my search, some news media started to mention the asbestos issue, mostly this ABCNews article which states that
The Trade Center reportedly decided more than 10 years ago to treat the health risk by encapsulating the asbestos to prevent the particles from being inhaled.
To my knowledge, "encapsulating" means that the asbestos fibers are simply painted over, or that asbestos-covered shafts are sealed, to avoid direct human contact and air contamination. With both WTC towers destroyed, this "encapsulation" is of no relevance. What matters is the degree of asbestos-contamination which is now in New York City. As school is supposed to begin again tomorrow, this problem should be addressed as soon as possible. Residents of NYC should stay in their homes, keep their windows closed and shut down the air conditioning (the filters won't work on the fiber).
Because of the lawsuits mentioned in the above articles, information on asbestos use in the WTC will also be hard to find (consider the potential damages involved as a good motivation for a cover-up). It is also likely that NY authorities will not publish asbestos air measurings in order to avoid wide-spread panic and possibly accountability (since Port Authorities have delayed a clean-up for years). The health problems this fallout will bring will remain unknown for a long time.
Appendix: Damage Estimations
We can make some very shaky assumptions about the amount of asbestos exposure New Yorkers will suffer, and the consequences it will have. WB Grace et al. provided at least about 200,000 pounds of asbestos (~100 tons) for use in the WTC. Most of it can be assumed to be still in the rubble pile -- let's say 1% (1 ton or 1E6 grams) is uniformly spread over the area of New York City of 800 square kilometres (8E8 m^2). (We can definitely say that this is not the case but that the concentration is much higher in certain areas.) Let's say it is mixed in the air up to a height of ca. 10 m, so you get 8E9 m^3 and a concentration of 100 ug/m^3 (1 ug = 1E-6 g, 1 ng = 1E-9 g).
In http://www.fumento.com/asbest.html one finds "3,5 ng/m^3 = 0,0001 fibers per cubic centimenter" (=fibers/cc) which results in 1 fiber/cc = 30 ug/m^3.
The above calculation therefore results in about 3 fibers/cc.
The official US Air Force regulations recommend:
(Excursion limit = limit for the length of an excursion = ~30 minutes.) Now we are 30 times above industry level and 3 times above worst case for 30 minutes.
It could be better if (aside from basic assumptions):
[this story may be distributed freely and modified, without credit.]
Note: One of the reader comments on this article states: "I was 1000 feet from ground zero at the time of the collapse. My bldg was engulfed by the cloud of dust. Even on the 14th floor the air was irritating to the throat and lungs. I walked home at about noon via the Brooklyn Bridge, like tens of thousands of others. I live in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn, exactly downwind from ground zero, a distance of about 4 or 5 miles. The air has continually had the smell of a burning building, to varying degrees. But today (Sunday, 9/16/01) it has the distinct smell of burning plastic."