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Downwind from Disaster
WTC environmetal health effects


You can also find this article as a mailing list post here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sprayno/message/5700

NEW YORK ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & JUSTICE PROJECT (NYELJP)

Joel R Kupferman, Esq. ; Executive Director Kimberly Flynn: Policy Analyst 315
Broadway Suite 200, New York NY 10007-1121
917-414-1983 fax: 646-349-2622
nyeljp@justice.com
http:// www.nyenvirolaw.org/
ACTS Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety
Monona Rossol, M.S., M.F.A.Industrial Hygienist
181 Thompson Street #23 New York, NY 10012
212-777-0062 fax: 212-777-0062
actsnyc@cs.com

DOWNWIND FROM DISASTER

Concern for the health of all those engaged in rescue and security operations, as well as those who live and work in lower Manhattan, has prompted the NYELJP and ACTS to conduct their own sampling of dust in and around the World Trade Center Disaster site.

The brave workers on the WTC pile have expressed concern about the dangers of breathing dust and smoke. Workers are not currently provided enough information to make an informed decision about the health risks of the dust and smoke.

Attorney Joel R Kupferman, of NYELJP has spent the last few days speaking with a wide range of emergency workers, police officers, fire fighters, union representatives, office workers and residents. All expressed serious concerns about the health hazards they now face firsthand. Some are having trouble breathing, some wheezing and coughing. Many are suffering with severe eye irritation and headaches.

Although people living and working in the New York City area breathe less dust and smoke than the workers at the site, the public faces similar hazards. In addition, the public includes individuals who are more vulnerable to the smoke, such as heart patients, asthmatics, and children.

We sent our dust samples taken from the WTC site area to ATC Associates of New York for independent analysis. The first four of our samples (Batch No.2962 analysis date 9/19/01) indicate that the hazards posed by the dust are significant. We urge the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal, State and local health agencies to release their data on the following substances.

FIBERGLASS. The most distressing finding is that three of the four samples contain fiberglass at levels between 10 and 15%. These tiny, needle-like particles are probably causing much of the reported irritation and pain in the eyes and respiratory system. People who are allergic to formaldehyde are likely to have even more symptoms because these fibers are usually coated with a thin layer of resin containing formaldehyde.

Long term health damage is also associated with fiberglass. The National Toxicology Program lists respirable glass fibers as "reasonably anticipated" to cause cancer. The International Agency for Research in Cancer lists certain of the glass fibers as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

We urge EPA and other government agencies to report fully on the amounts and particle size of the fiberglass dust, and to provide appropriate protective measures and gear, for those exposed to it.

ASBESTOS. Analyses of our dust samples showed that one in four samples tested contained 2.1% asbestos, which is more than double the 1% level at which a material is legally designated as hazardous, and is subject to special abatement and removal procedures. These results were consistent with those reported by EPA, with reported levels as high as 3.3% asbestos in some samples.The air-borne, or friable (crushable with hand pressure) nature of the asbestos means that even a small percentage of particulate may be significantly hazardous.

Perhaps indifferently and misleadingly, the New York City Dept. of Health has issued an advisory which states ". . .the general public's risk for any short or long-term adverse health affects are very low, and no significant health risks [are posed] to occupants in the affected area."

Workers do not know if the dust they are breathing at any given moment is asbestos-laden or not. New Yorkers returning to their apartments or to offices in the area have no way of knowing if the dust there contains more than 1% asbestos that requires professional abatement.

Health agencies should advise building owners, employers, and individuals to do what we did: send samples to a laboratory. The tests usually take less than an hour and cost under $40. The analyses can provide guidance for choosing safe clean-up methods.

DIOXINS and PCBs. The fires at the disaster site are consuming a mixture of combustibles. Wood, paper, and every conceivable type of plastic from computers, vinyl-coated wiring and cable, urethane foam upholstery, vinyl plastic floor tile, and synthetic fiber carpets, are burning. PCB-containing oils from old fluorescent light ballasts may also be burning.

It is well-known that fires involving such materials are sources of highly toxic combustion by-products- including dioxins, PCBs, furans, and other highly toxic and cancer-causing substances. Even backyard refuse burning is banned in many places because the fires were shown to be a major source of environmental dioxins and other toxins.

EPA press releases imply that the smoke from this huge fire does not contain these toxic chemicals. Clearly, we are not getting complete information.

SMOKE AND GASES. All building fires emit many other substances including tiny particles (seen in the smoke), carbon monoxide (from incomplete combustion), and sulfur oxides (from the many sulfur-containing compounds used in building materials). All these substances plus ozone are monitored for the EPA's uniform air quality index (AQI).

[Note from CN: this table was very badly formatted in the original. I have done my best to make it readable but there may be errors]

U.S. EPA AIR QUALITY INDEX (AQI)*
AQI Description value Ozone (O3) Particulate matter (PM) 8-hr Particulate matter (PM) 1-hr PM2.5 24-hr PM10 24-hr Carbon monoxide (CO) 8-hr Sulfur dioxide (SO2) 24-hr
50 good 0.06 (none given?) (none given?) 15 ug/m3** (uncertain) 50ug/m3** (uncertain) 4 ppm** 0.03
100 moderate 0.08 0.12 65 150 9   0.14
150 unhealthy for sensitive groups 0.10 0.16 100 250 12   0.22
200 unhealthy 0.12 0.20 150 350 15   0.30
300 very unhealthy 0.40 (1-hr) 0.40 250 420 30   0.60
400 hazardous 0.50 (1-hr) 0.50 350 500 40   0.80
500 hazardous 0.60 (1-hr) 0.60 500 600 50   1.00
*64 FR 42529-42573. Aug. 4, 1999 ** ppm = parts per million,ug/m3 = micrograms/cubic meter The AQI index is designed to provide information on air quality and health that will help individual citizens take prudent, self- protective actions.

 

We urge EPA to release this data in detail instead of generalized press releases.

Look for The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) description of some of the potential hazards and an outline of ways that workers, managers and others can minimize them http://www.nycosh.org/

SUMMARY. Health officials may think they are doing people a favor by withholding information, but there is no reason to assume that New Yorkers will not be just as courageous in dealing with air quality issues as they have been in dealing with the disaster. Failing to provide this information can cause people to take needless risks. For example, we see footage and personally have witnessed workers toiling in a haze of dust without respiratory protection or protective clothing.

And the New York Times on September 20, 2001 suggests that residents can clean up their apartments with a $3 mask and a broom. Taking actions like these can damage health and may even shorten lives in the future. Instead. methods chosen to clean homes and offices must depend on analysis of the dust and the amounts present.

Attorney Joel R Kupferman said, "Everyone I spoke to wanted accurate information in order to decide for themselves how to protect their health. In this emergency, it is especially crucial not to keep these heroic people in the dark. They are already making so many sacrifices, they must not be further burdened with unnecessary risks. The city depends on these people and they should depend on us for the truth."

New York needs no more casualties. Copy and distribute freely


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Cyndi Norwitz / webmaster@immuneweb.org / Last Modified: 9/30/01