NYCity Council Hearing on Post-9/11 Remediation of WTC Contamination

Problems with EPA's Scopes of Work; EPA’s Outreach


Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D, QEP, CUNY faculty,

1795 Riverside Drive, #5F,  New York, NY  10034    212-567-8272


December 19, 2002 revision


I am Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D., Scientist-in-Residence and adjunct assistant professor in the City University of New York system.  I was co-author of a National Academy of Sciences report on the Health Effects of Waste Incineration and teach a course on urban environmental health management.  I have written extensively on incineration emissions and their control:



In addition to being a tragedy of global proportions, as an environmental disaster, the collapse of the three World Trade Center buildings and subsequent fires from all eight buildings produced uncontrolled emissions equivalent to dozens of asbestos factories, incinerators and crematoria as well as a volcano.


The collapse itself and the burning of the buildings' contents created an unprecedented quantity and combination of dozens of toxic and carcinogenic substances, including organic compounds (e.g. dioxin and furans, PCBs, benzene, PAHs), heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury, cadmium and others), fiberglass, and asbestos.  Individually, these substances have been shown to cause permanent and serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma as well as other cancers, asbestosis, brain damage, learning disabilities, asthma and other respiratory difficulties.  Some of these toxic compounds were released in gaseous form, but much was released as particulate matter, some of it so fine that it eludes one's coughing mechanism and can accumulate in the lungs, exposing many to toxics and carcinogenic substances for decades.   Studies have indicated that combinations of pollutants acting synergistically can result in toxic effects many times higher.


These toxic and carcinogenic substances were dispersed over a large area for several months.  US Geological Survey aerial maps from September, 2001 show asbestos contamination in Manhattan miles from the WTC and NASA satellite maps show the plume of particulates frequently over Brooklyn and Councilmember Yassky has indicated in press reports that there was immediate fallout of fine particulate in Brooklyn.  At different times people could smell the plume in upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey; and materials recognizable from the WTC landed in Brooklyn. 


These substances did not just contaminate the outdoor air, and fallout on the streets and exteriors of buildings, as USEPA had alleged for eight months, but these tiny particles also infiltrated buildings, even when windows were closed.  There are no natural cleaning mechanisms inside buildings as there are for outside air (i.e. wind and rain), so particulate matter builds up, particularly in carpets, upholstery, clothing, and draperies.  These reservoirs of dust can continue to be sources of contaminants for many years, released to the air when children jump on the sofa and roll around on the carpets.  Mold is also a problem in places due to inattention to sealing the buildings after they were contaminated (both to prevent spread of toxics and infiltration of water).  The potential for recontamination of neighborhoods exists if buildings contaminated by mold are demolished, but this danger has been ignored by the environmental agencies, just as indoor toxic dust has been.



EPA’s Too Little Too Late “Cleanup”


After eight months of having wrongfully delegated the abatement of hazardous wastes from indoor spaces to the City DEP, who delegated it to landlords and tenants, EPA's plan for remediation, was done under protest, and is a half-hearted attempt to appease and public and dupe the media.  EPA also made up standards for indoor air quality on the fly.  Neither the cleanup plan nor the standards for protection of public health are scientifically valid from a number of standpoints, and they were not and still have not been peer reviewed by the scientific community.  Despite repeatedly hearing specific recommendations for creating a cleanup standard that would use the precautionary principle to be protective of health, from independent scientists, such as myself, and the educated citizenry, EPA went forward with a flawed plan.  Not really believing in this flawed “cleanup”, EPA has refused repeated requests from scientists and the community to conduct an outreach program designed to reach all affected New Yorkers with truthful information about the contamination that was spread to building interiors or about the public health threats this can cause.   Below are some of the most substantial problems with the remediation.



The Boundaries for Cleaning are Arbitrary, not based on Science


The boundary for EPA's remediation program is still Canal, Allen and Pike.  When asked for the scientific basis for stopping any remediation measures beyond these boundaries, EPA told us that this was an arbitrary limitation based on FEMA's unscientific suggestion.  EPA has also taken FEMA's recommendation to limit its remediation program just to apartment buildings, assuming that all commercial buildings have insurance that will pay for proper remediation and that the building owners will actually have proper abatements done.  No schools or government buildings are included in this program, though the infiltration of contamination did not discriminate.  There is no scientific basis for this.  Not cleaning all indoor spaces puts some people at risk and allows for dusts in those spaces to recontaminate “cleaned” spaces.  EPA should extend the boundaries to include all indoor spaces and as far away from Ground Zero as tests indicate that contamination exists. 



Clearance Standards;  A Cancer Risk of One-in-Ten-Thousand is Not Acceptable


There is No Safe Level for exposure to carcinogens.  No one will argue with this.  But EPA has used an “acceptable risk” factor to allow people to be exposed to small amounts of cancer-causing substances.    As a general rule, EPA uses one in a million cancers (10-6) as an “acceptable risk” when certifying that an area has been adequately remediated of hazardous substances.  Even in similar situations to the World Trade Center contamination, EPA has used this standard.  But for the Lower Manhattan “cleanup”, EPA has used a one in ten thousand lifetime risk factor to create standards for every contaminant that it has deemed important enough to test.  EPA has said it has problems measuring asbestos (only) to this level using one measuring instrument due to “filter clogging”, but this would indicate that the cleanup had not been successful, and a recleaning was necessary.  And in any event, it is possible to run a few instruments side-by-side for a shorter period to get the needed result.  EPA should not use filter clogging as an excuse to expose New Yorkers to 100 times the asbestos levels as everybody else, OR that such filter clogging applies to measurement of any other carcinogen or toxic substance besides asbestos.


The National Contingency Plan (NCP) makes it clear that a one-in-a-million (10-6 ) risk level “shall be used as the point of departure for determining remediation goals” when applicable standards are not available, which is the case for indoor contamination by most of the WTC contaminants.[1]  Furthermore, the New York State Superfund program requires that cleanup levels correspond to an excess lifetime cancer risk of 10-6  for Class A and Class B carcinogens.[2]  Asbestos is a Class A carcinogen.  There were many carcinogens in the toxic soup emitted during the WTC collapse and fires.  EPA should design standards using the precautionary principle, to protect public health from carcinogens at the one in one million risk level.



Bait and Switch:  Remediation vs. Testing only

EPA has decided to give tenants the choice to have their apartments tested, but not remediated.  But EPA will only test for presence of asbestos.  Studies by Rutgers’ Paul Lioy and others have shown that the distribution of toxicity and carcinogens was not uniform.  An indoor space can have high levels of other toxics and carcinogens while having low levels of asbestos.  If found to have what EPA considers to be low levels of asbestos, EPA will refuse to “clean” an apartment, even if it may have high levels of other contaminants.  This “testing only” option should not be offered.



Flawed Risk Communication and Outreach

This flawed plan also presumes that tenants understand the nature of the contamination and the long-term health risks, neither of which EPA has been providing in their educational outreach.  EPA’s outreach explains more about the inconveniences of cleaning, and past EPA statements, that the air is safe, both lead citizens towards the testing option.  Also, the program is still voluntary, depending on tenants to have knowledge of the program (and its pitfalls) and expertise to know if their apartment needs remediation.  EPA’s outreach has been limited to a website and a few individuals making personal appearances at apartment buildings.  Worse, EPA’s outreach materials withhold information about the types of WTC contamination that studies have found in apartments and they do not provide any information that would motivate people to register for the cleanup (e.g., health risks, diseases resulting from decades of exposure to the contaminants residing in dust reservoirs like carpets).  The deadline has been extended to December 28, 2002.  But many residents are still not aware of the program or need for abatement.  EPA must improve its public outreach to that people are adequately informed of the risks of the contaminants that may still be in their apartments.  If this does not take place, many people may forego having their apartments cleaned in the false belief that they will be safe.  The ultimate consequences to public health could be considerable.   EPA should also extend the deadline for residents to sign up for the “cleanup” for as long as it takes them to conduct and VERIFY RECEIPT  of a thorough and proper risk communication of the health reasons for residents to take advantage of the program to every single person living downtown and in their preferred language. 



Type of Remediation


1.  Common areas are still given just visual inspection to assess need for cleanup.  The problem is that significantly elevated levels of asbestos have been found in areas that have been cleaned before and where there doesn't appear to be contamination on visual inspection.   All Common Areas should be cleaned prior to any cleaning of apartments.


2.  Intake/discharge registers of HVAC systems (if present) will be removed/cleaned.  Only the first foot of duct work will also be vacuumed, then the register will be reinstalled and covered with plastic.  This will ensure that contamination can remain in HVAC ducts, and that recontamination can occur.  EPA should clean all HVAC systems thoroughly.


3.  Only the first foot of all exhaust duct work (including stove, dryer and bathroom vents) will be vacuumed.  Again, this is not a scientifically-derived or protective protocol, but one developed for convenience.  The contamination that is left in these duct systems also constitutes a long-term reservoir for recontamination.


4.  If a HVAC system requires cleaning, then the Monitoring Contractor shall prepare a scope of work for the cleaning the HVAC system or portion thereof.  The scope of work shall be provided to DEP and EPA within 2 business days of the completion of the HVAC system evaluation."  (This will guarantee a hodge-podge, case-by-case methodology for cleaning HVAC.


5.  Curtains, fabric window treatments, upholstery and other materials that cannot be cleaned by wet wiping will be HEPA vacuumed two times.  Fabric covered furniture will be vacuumed using a stiff brush attachment   But HEPA vacuuming can vaporize any mercury on the particulate.  This method is not effective in removing asbestos, as shown in tests at Brookdale, CT schools, where ultrasonication detected large amounts of asbestos, where microvac showed none.


6.  HEPA vacuuming may well volatilize any mercury bound up in particulate matter in dust.  No mention is made of this possibility or how to ameliorate the impact.


7. Window air conditioners will be vacuumed then removed from their position and vacuumed internally.  Filters will be HEPA vacuumed and reinstalled.  Wet wiping then wet wipe sampling for clearance testing would be an additional precaution.


8.  Baseboard heaters will be cleaned.  Protective covers on finned radiant heaters and baseboard heaters will be removed to expose heat elements.  Fins are to be brushed and vacuumed to remove dust.  Again, wet cleaning, then wet wipe sampling for clearance testing would be an additional precaution.


9.  No specific mention has been made of cleaning electronics, computers etc. that have internal fans that take in outside air, and are known reservoirs for dust.


10.  Cleaning clothing and accessories (handbags, shoes, etc.) is the responsibility of the resident.  The Cleaning Contractor will not open and/or clean inside drawers, cabinets, breakfronts, etageres and similar enclosed storage and display spaces.'  These will remain contaminated and serve as another source of recontamination.


11  As part of the Cleaning Program, the Scheduling Contractor will contact the New York City Department of Health (NYCDoH) if mold is observed in a residence or residential building.  The NYCDoH will then contact the resident to provide recommendations on how to address the affected areas."  This leaves cleanup of mold to the resident!!!  EPA should clean up all mold contamination.



Not Cleaning Common Areas and Ductwork will Recontaminate Cleaned areas

Owners and managers of residential buildings and co-op boards can request to have their buildings' common areas and HVAC inspected and cleaned.  If a tenant association makes this request, EPA will seek agreement by building owner or manager.  But an owner does not have to agree.  This will result in fewer buildings having HVAC inspections and abatement.  HVAC systems that remain uncleaned pose the threat of recontaminating apartments that have been cleaned.   Only if the building owner requests, the Project Monitor will inspect other common areas including laundry rooms, utility rooms, compactor rooms and elevator shafts.  These areas will be cleaned "as needed".  This term is vague.  EPA should clean all common areas and the entire length of ductwork in buildings being remediated.



Type of Clearance Testing


For clearance testing, "Residents have a choice between two forms of airborne asbestos testing, modified-aggressive and aggressive" (as if they know the difference in results).  EPA's fact sheet says:  'Modified- aggressive testing simulates the normal air movement you would expect in a room where a fan or air conditioner was running.  In aggressive testing, a one-horsepower leaf blower is used to direct a jet of air into all corners of the residence before testing is begun.  The way this is written, a lay person would choose modified testing every time, regardless of the fact that aggressive testing is the method specified for proper asbestos abatements and would be more precautionary in showing the presence of contamination remaining after cleaning has been done.


Wipe samples will be collected at 10 percent of the residences where sampling only has been requested, up to a maximum of 13 residences, as instructed by EPA. This sampling will consist of the collection of 3 wipe samples each for dioxin and mercury.  Considering that thousands of buildings were contaminated, this tiny number of samples for dioxin and mercury is not scientifically valid.  The locations of the wipe sampling are also not specified.  Would any be inside of ductwork on horizontal surfaces?   Would any be in other reservoirs for dust?  Wipe samples are not suitable technique for sampling soft surfaces such as upholstery and carpets.


Common spaces will be sampled without the use of forced air devices (fans, leaf blowers etc).   This ensures that common areas will have a less effective remediation than inside apartments.  There is no scientific basis for this.


Transparency of Process


EPA has gone about the remediation reluctantly.  It delegated collection of indoor data to NYCDEP, who delegated it to landlords, most of whom have not complied.  It waited until February to even begin the process of determining which contaminants are a threat to public health.  Thus far, it has crafted new standards without the usual peer review and public comment processes.  Although a closed conference, under the auspices of TERA, occurred the end of October, 2002, the lack of input from interested informed scientists is also problematic.  The TERA peer review does not include these cleanup or testing protocols, which ostensibly were written subsequent to the “Contaminants of Potential Concern” document.


EPA has specified that all data shall be provided to EPA Indoor Air web database.   Researchers need the data; methods can be devised so that the data can be shared without compromising residents' identities. 


We urge that EPA's scopes undergo careful, public review by independent scientists and that said scientists be invited to make a presentation on an alternative course of action, taking into account the Precautionary Principle, that in the face of partially quantified dangers, government must err on the side of caution in protecting the public health.


[1] 40 CFR 300.430 (e)(2)(i)(A)(2).  The NCP is the federal regulation that governs Superfund.

[2] New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Remediation, Technical and Administrative Guidance Memorandum No. 4046, January 24, 1994,  pp.1-2.