Statement of Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D.
My name is Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D. I'm a
I am glad that the Council environment, health and downtown
committees are having this hearing on the health impacts on lower
There are several issues of importance to and lessons to be
Lack of Coordination
I concur with the Ground Zero Task Force, that there still needs to be a Cleanup Oversight Agency -- I'd go further and say that there needed/needs to be one agency responsible for monitoring health and providing health assistance, and another for environmental sampling, analysis and public dissemination of the results. There was a long delay before all the environmental and health agencies even began to talk with one another about sampling of air quality and accumulated dust. I heard from a high level policy official at City DEP that it took 2 weeks for discussions to start between the head of NYCDEP (Miele) and the local USEPA office. When did DEC begin to coordinate with these other agencies? Why did it take five months for the USGS data about the caustic nature of the particulate matter to become public? This could have explained the nosebleeds and some of the coughing.
The fires burned and smoldered for at least 100 days; a decision was made on some level not to attempt to suffocate them (i.e., blocking off all the sources of air from above and below).
Because the decision was made not to contain the site, every
time we have a heavy wind, the dust that is still all over lower
When the City made its decisions to evacuate and return
residents and businesses to lower
Unprecedented air pollution source (type and size)
The WTC collapses and fires actually constituted a brand new, combination type of air pollution source, with aspects of a (1) crematorium (most of the bodies will never be found because they were cremated, and their ashes scattered all over downtown and surrounding areas intermingled with the asbestos, fiberglass and concrete dusts), (2) a solid waste incinerator of unprecedented proportion (described below), (3) asbestos factory (but on a scale thousands of times the size and intensity of what would be found even in a badly operated factory) and (4) volcano (the initial cloud was similar to nuee ardente - hot gas and dust cloud - in some respects, depositing ash in a large area).
Since this is a new type of air pollution source, no
emissions standards exist and therefore, none of the existing standards for
other sources directly applied. Many of us remember the bitter battles between
There has been a toxic and carcinogenic "soup" of air pollutants in the downtown air, constantly being generated by fires, and worse, smoldering embers that incompletely combust thousands of tons of toxic precursors present in the form of fine particles and gases -- the perfect recipe formation of dioxins, furans, and similar products of incomplete combustion.
It's hard to imagine a more perfect machine for generating toxic and carcinogenic air pollution. First, there were thousands of tons of asbestos, fiberglass, silica, and very alkaline concrete which was pulverized into various size fractions, but much of which was extremely fine in size. Then there was a tremendous source of heavy metals, PCBs, and acids just from the building's contents (latex paints typically contain mercury - think of the number of gallons there was on the walls). Lead came from volatilization of lead from car batteries, leaded glass in computer screens, lead solder, and lead pigments among other sources. Mercury would have come from batteries, fluorescent lighting, paints, thermostats and thermometers, mercury light switches, and other sources (see attachment 1 for a list). The same is true of cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. Most of this was initially pulverized; much of that was then in a form easy to volatilize given a high enough temperature, and then easily able to condense onto fine particulate.
In addition there were combustible products and packaging all over the buildings -- everything from products and packaging made of paper, cardboard, wood and plastic, including furniture, floor coverings, textile partitions just to name a very few. Fire is easier to start when the combustible matter is a very fine size because the temperature and oxygen can get to all surfaces quickly (try to start a log burning vs. small scraps of paper). The source of heat in the WTC came not only from burning of the jet fuel, but also from the cars underground, as well as from the combustible materials in the building (paper and plastic are highly combustible).
The paper and plastics are not only important because they fed the fires, which volatilized metals and other toxic gases, but also because under conditions of a few hundred degrees to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, dioxins, furans, and similar compounds form, de novo, when paper and plastic smolder where insufficient oxygen and temperature is present to burn them thoroughly. From what I have heard, the temperature of the pile had been within the temperature range for generating but not destroying dioxins for much of the time since 9/1l, so the emissions from these fires could easily have been similar to a number of uncontrolled incinerators.
In the 1970s, before it was known that municipal solid waste
incinerators needed to be designed and operated very carefully to combust the
waste thoroughly, some incinerators created tens of thousands of
nanograms/cubic meter of dioxin emissions. The stack size of one of these
incinerators was a tiny fraction of the equivalent stack size of the
Dioxin is a family of 210 discrete man-made chemicals that
are some of the most carcinogenic and toxic chemicals known. Dioxin is the contaminant of Agent Orange
that was responsible for birth defects across
Potential for Serious Long-Term Health Effects
It is important to understand that once toxic and carcinogenic substances are in a gaseous state in an incinerator (which would roughly correlate with the pile here), they would naturally condense onto the surfaces of any fine particulate nearby as they moved out of the hot zone (towards ambient air temperatures). We now know that much of the concrete, asbestos and fiberglass of the trade center structure and much of its contents were pulverized into very fine particulate. The finer the particulate matter, the greater the surface area per unit volume. Therefore, it is likely that much of the particulate matter has heavy metals, dioxins and other chlorinated organic compounds, and other pollutants adsorbed onto the surfaces. The finer sizes of particulate matter, laden with toxic and carcinogenic substances, can evade the body's coughing mechanism - the cilia - all the way down to the alveoli (air sacs) where they can reside for the long-term. The longer the fires burned, the greater was the source of volatilized metals, organics, and acids. Research has shown that diesel emissions, asbestos, cigarette smoke, and even air pollution can cause lung cancer. Is it such a stretch to think that this combination of asbestos, fiberglass, dioxins, and heavy metals will do the same?
Inadequate Air Quality Standards
Most air quality standards were created in the 1970s to protect the public health from air pollution. But the science of air pollution has been evolving slowly since then, and we do not know all there is to know about the health consequences of air pollution.
There are a few types of air quality standards --
1. ambient air quality - mostly irritants (SO2, NOx, CO, O3, particulates) from cars,
2. occupational exposures (a wide range of pollutants, 8-hour/day exposure), and
3. emissions from point and non-point sources (as measured in the stack or tailpipe).
4. There are just a few standards for hazardous air pollutants, which cause health effects with far lower doses (ppm, ppb) than the criteria air pollutants for which there are ambient air quality standards. Most toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants are not regulated under "NESHAPS", and there has been decades of delays in standard-writing for other pollutants. This needs to be rectified soon, before we face something like this again.
The shortcoming of ALL these types of standards is that they were calculated by considering the effect on human health and the environment (i.e., the health of ecosystems) of only one pollutant at a time. If the air contains two, or five, or five hundred discrete organics, heavy metals, acids, each of which has its own toxic and carcinogenic properties, but every pollutant is below the individual standard levels, then the government points to that and says that the air is safe. But is it? The government hasn't written standards for combinations of pollutants, so it considers the air to be safe if all standards, as currently written, are met.
It's common sense that elevated levels of five pollutants is worse than one. It's also common sense that when there are widespread complaints of symptoms ranging from headaches and coughing to new onset asthma in marathon runners, and when everyone who entered into areas a half mile away and more from Ground Zero could smell the pollution, the air has not been "safe" for everyone. The additive effects of multiple pollutants need to be considered in assessing evacuation zones, public and health measures. Furthermore, two or more pollutants can interact with one another and produce impacts that are significantly more than the additive effects. Research has shown that inhalation of both asbestos and cigarette smoke produces several times the effect of either one alone. When 1 + 1 + 1 does not equal three, but equals 30, this is called synergy. The Mt. Sinai Environmental Sciences Laboratory, which pioneered research into the health effects of asbestos, has found that those exposed to asbestos and who smoke, have not twice but 80 to 90 times the probability of suffering from asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Despite the fact that the air was still so full of contaminants that everyone could smell "it" many blocks from Ground Zero until the end of November, all three environmental agencies stated that nothing was wrong with the air at the City Club's forum on October 26. Their basis has been that each individual pollutant is below action or standard levels "most" of the time. But it is clear that a large number of pollutants are significantly elevated above background levels. I received an email from Dr. David Cleverly, dioxin expert at USEPA, that dioxin had been 50 times normal background levels, but not as high as actionable levels most of the time. Since there were many toxic, carcinogenic and irritating pollutants, and this is not the only scenario where tall buildings could collapse and burn (consider earthquakes, further terror attacks), standards need to be rewritten to assess the impacts of synergy - to protect the public health.
But EPA's website says that "most of the air samples
taken in areas surrounding the work zone and analyzed for dioxin have been
below EPA's screening level, which is set to protect against significantly
increased risks of cancer and other adverse health effects. The screening level
is based on an assumption of continuous exposure for a year to an average
concentration of 0.16 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3)", which is 60%
higher than incinerator emission standards at the stack exit in several
European countries. My understanding,
from what I have heard, is that the screening level was hastily put together so
that EPA could say something (explaining why it is higher than a European STACK LEVEL emission standard). Twelve days after the attack, ambient
concentrations of dioxin were 0.139 ng/m3 at Church and Dey just
east of the site, 0.16 and 0.18 ng/m3 at Barclay and W. Broadway
just north of the site, and at Broadway and Liberty, levels were at the 0.1ng/m3
level. No measurements were taken
northeast of the site, which would be downwind most often. The temperatures of the debris have also
continued to be sufficient to vaporize many toxic heavy metals, such as lead,
cadmium, chromium, arsenic, mercury, to mention just a few of the many that
have surely been emitted in large quantities from this uncontrolled
incinerator. I, myself, could smell the
metals in the air while I was at the
Cate Jenkins, a scientist at USEPA, has written a number of
informational memos since 9/11 indicating instances where EPA has ignored its
own precedents, and where the NYC DOH has developed standards in conflict with
EPA policy, among other important topics.
These can be viewed at http://www.nyenvirolaw.org/#CateJenkins We have learned, for
example, that EPA has cleaned up building interiors and has considered entire
towns as superfund sites.
What can we learn from this? Background levels refer to what is loosely considered to be "normal" levels of any given pollutant in the atmosphere. But what does it mean if dioxin plus hundreds of discrete substances including asbestos and several other toxic and/or carcinogenic organic compounds, heavy metals, silica, acids and other gases and particulate matter are elevated, or even many times background levels, and are borderline actionable? Doesn't it seem likely that breathing air in which many toxic or carcinogenic pollutants are borderline actionable is worse for public health than breathing air in which only one pollutant is borderline? Yet standards assume the impact on human health is from only one pollutant. Is it protective of public health to look at each pollutant one at a time, ignoring the additive effects of inhaling each of several pollutants? Can we assume that the impacts on human health is only the additive effect of the concentrations of each pollutant, or might there be synergistic interactions between some of these compounds that increase the impacts further? Since ambient air standards are for individual pollutants, it is imperative that research be done to assess the impacts on public health of combinations of pollutants. Standards need to be rewritten as well to assess the impacts of synergy. The environmental agencies at all levels need to become more expert in evaluating the health and environmental effects of various mixtures of pollutants. Based on this information EPA should rewrite its air quality standards to assess the impacts of various combinations of pollutants so that we will be ready next time to know how to protect the public health.
Standards Needed for Different types of exposure
Various governmental agencies have applied occupational safety exposure levels for specific pollutants to those exposed to WTC air. But there are several distinct groups of those exposed, and each group has had distinctly different exposures:
· Those working on the pile (Variables: the level of emissions have decreased over time as the fires decreased in extent, degree of protective respirator/masks used, amount of time spent)
· Those who were caught in the initial horrendous dust cloud, covered in dust, running away, breathing intense quantities of dust deeply into the lungs and ingesting dust particles.
· Those living in the area (Variables: level of emissions varies depending on specific location, on weather, and length of time since 9/11; degree of protective respirator/masks used)
· Those who cleaned apartments (level of exposure varying with amount of dust in apartment, method of cleaning, degree of protective respirator/masks used, amount of time spent in cleaning)
· Those working in the area - 8 hours a day five days a week; (Variables: degree of protective respirator/masks used)
· Those at risk: Children, Elderly, Compromised Immune systems, those with pulmonary problems are more likely to suffer more adverse affects than others for all the above categories.
Handlers of disposed debris: shipments to
Most of these groups of exposed cannot be compared with occupational exposure. Studies of occupational exposure assume 5 days a week, 8 hours a day exposure to adults (healthy males?) What about those who live there, those at risk, those caught in the initial cloud? This requires considerable investigation, and many new standards need to be created to address these different categories of exposure.
Trucks and Barges
Entrainment of pollutant-laden fine dust is also occurring, as we heard, by loading debris into trucks and barges. There are standards for reducing entrainment of incinerator ash. These involve spraying water and containment in leak-proof, covered trucks. Why aren't we enforcing those standards? Is it because this is not an incinerator? Shouldn't common sense dictate that the closest standards that exist be the ones to be followed in such a case? We heard that “guys with guns” enforce covering of trucks – Now. But I had heard from people who lived in the area, that the military had been enforcing the opposite in the first weeks, when pollutant levels were highest, so that they could check the trucks’ contents. That the trucks might be covered by leaky tarps now does not negate the exposure to residents and workers of pollutants that were emitted earlier.
Air quality data has been selectively shared with the
public, leaving the public mistrustful.
Further, the agencies waited far too long to begin adding monitors to
the area. We can only imagine the levels
of dioxin, asbestos, heavy metals, acids, other organics, silica, etc. that was
in the air while people were running from the area. We shouldn’t ignore this impact on their
health. On EPA’s website, it initially
listed only asbestos in air, asbestos in dust and a gross measure of
particulate matter in air. After several
weeks passed, EPA added PCB and lead.
After another few weeks, a few days' individual samples of dioxin were
presented. All told, this is maybe 20
pages of information. But in a televised public forum (City Club forum held
October 26 and subsequently televised on CUNY TV), EPA said that all of its
data was online. EPA repeated this at
City Council hearings on November 1 and at State Assembly hearings later in
November. Early on, I learned that EPA
had 900 pages of data, including a list of heavy metals, dioxins and furans,
acid gases, as well as those items listed.
But EPA has demanded that the
Where was EPA while thousands of
Not only was EPA's secretiveness reprehensible this time, but procedures should be put in place NOW to ensure that should anything like this ever happen again, the environmental agencies would immediately be meeting to coordinate comprehensive sampling and analysis, AND prompt disclosure to the public via the internet of ALL data along with all current and applicable standards as well as background levels for each pollutant.
We also need to conduct research to understand toxic and carcinogenic impacts of multiple, unknown pollutants. One method of doing this is by conducting assays using surrogate organisms, to observe the impacts on their health of different pollutant combinations. Tetramitus flagellate is one such single-celled organism that has been shown to indicate toxicity of unknown mixtures. Dr. Robert Jaffe, of the Environmental Toxicology Laboratory, http://www.envirolab.com/ has been pioneering work in this area. This technology needs to be used as a screening measure to watch for new attacks.
Building codes and operations
Very little has been spoken about building codes, and how the composition, structure, and operation of buildings contributed to the death toll, and how revision of these regulations is needed to prevent future deaths. When I worked on the 83rd floor of WTC 1 for a couple of years around 1980, we didn't have fire drills very often (I can only remember one, maybe two). When we did have drills, we were told to walk down the stairs to the 78th floor at which point we were told to stay put. That was the total extent of the fire drill. Is that protective of public health? The truth is, the WTC buildings were so tall that they were not readily evacuable. The stairways were not designed to evacuate everyone in a reasonable amount of time. To complicate this further, the Port Authority made announcements to go back to their offices. They did not immediately send announcements to everyone in both buildings to evacuate to the ground floor and leave. Some people who had gone to the first floor returned to their offices and lost their lives. A last point: Firefighters were coming up the same stairwells that the thousands of office workers were using to evacuate. This effectively halved the capacity of the stairwells for evacuation purposes. How many people might have gotten out if they didn't have to wait to enter a stairwell that was reduced to half its original capacity (remembering that some of the stairwells became impassable due to the fires themselves)? How many other tall buildings in NYC have insufficient number of narrow stairwells? How many are not totally evacuated during fire drills? What about those in wheelchairs on high floors? All these questions point to the need to limit the number of floors of new buildings to a size that can easily and routinely be evacuated quickly, assuming that firefighters will need space in the stairwells.
Insofar as construction of future buildings is concerned, attention must be paid to the safety factor chosen for retarding the effect of fire on the building's structural members. The WTC was designed to withstand the impact of a 707 aircraft. But why wasn't it also assumed that the 707 would be carrying thousands of gallons of jet fuel, and that this jet fuel would cause a fire of sufficient temperature and duration to melt the steel members? This is not a difficult mental exercise, and structural engineers figured this out within a day or so of having watched the floors compact. There is no room for error. If just one floor gives way, because the steel has partially melted, the weight of floors above comes crashing down, and the entire building will collapse, immediately, as we saw. Note that WTC building #7 was not even hit by an aircraft, but it also collapsed due to the duration of fire. The structural engineers interviewed said that it would have been possible to put a thicker layer of protective coating on the structural members of the WTC, but it would have cost a little more. How many people would have been saved if the buildings held together for another half hour? We should learn from this disaster. Building codes should be revisited to address all these issues and correct all deficiencies.
Are we ostriches or will we face the future?
I'll close by drawing an analogy with the way the environmental agencies are dealing with the public health hazard downtown. In south Florida, where I grew up, in the 1940s, as tourism was quickly growing, the government kept information about hurricanes secret for fear that too much information would hurt business, particularly the tourist trade. Predictably, south Florida got walloped a couple of times, and then the government, wisely, decided to make an about-face and become the world's experts on hurricane tracking, prediction, alerts, mitigation and standards for evacuation of the population to protect the public health. They established a world-class center in Coral Gables to serve as the source of information and research. Later, by the time I was six, I was tracking every hurricane's progress on a chart I got for free at the 7-11 store by listening to the radio for coordinates.
We have exactly the same situation here. There is a lot we don't know. The government wants to protect business and the tourist trade. The government has kept a great deal of information off limits to anyone for the first several weeks, and lately it has made it difficult to obtain in any usable form. Even worse than this is that we don't know the long-lasting impacts of the initial huge, dense cloud of finely pulverized asbestos and silica-laden dust on those running and inhaling deeply in its midst. We don't know the additive and synergistic effects of combinations of many toxic and carcinogenic pollutants that continue to be emitted from the fires or entrained from the dust as it blows off the rooftops and ledges. Will this exposure to air pollution compromise immune systems, making people more vulnerable to future illnesses or terrorist attacks? On what basis did the government choose a perimeter for evacuation? On what basis did they rush to reopen the area? Have we learned anything from this experience? Now is a time for the environmental agencies to pull their heads from the sand, make an about-face, coordinate and release all data and interpretive guidelines on the Web. We need to err on the side of caution rather than seeking to go "back to normal" at the cost of the public health.
The federal government should assist the City by committing its funds and encouraging the Governor to seek additional federal 9/11 grants on an accelerated basis to conduct ongoing, comprehensive surveillance of symptoms in affected populations, buy room filters for residents, pay for proper indoor and building cleanup, research the acute and long-term impacts on health of highly concentrated combinations of pollutants acting for a short time, as well as elevated levels of combinations acting for longer periods of time.
The federal government should write new standards to reflect short-term exposure to high concentrations, as in the initial cloud, as well as synergistic effects of many toxic, carcinogenic pollutants.
We also need to have contingency planning for different types of environmental disasters as this new war against terrorism progresses. We need to actively examine worst case scenarios and plan for them. We need to understand how far to evacuate and for how long. This is the only way to regain public trust. Recalling the hurricane example, and realizing that we may not be finished with terrorism, becoming the world's experts in environmental health disasters and being truly open with the public is the best course of action in the long term.
1. to investigate, quantify, substantiate, and publicize any lies, misstatements, unpreparedness, lack of coordination, ineptitude, lack of attention to redirecting staff, or worse that did occur in the days and months since the World Trade Center attack on 9/11/2001. The Council should investigate all apparent or actual conflicts of interest that might have motivated agency and elected officials to make statements or make decisions.
2. To investigate and come to conclusions on
(a) the Bases for EPA's, DEP, DOH and other elected and appointed officials' statements as to the safety of the downtown area for reoccupancy, (i.e., what did they know, when did they know it, who did they ask, what agencies did they coordinate with, and on what topics -- example: when did EPA and DEP first learn about the caustic nature of the dusts from USGS)?
(b) the instructions and protective equipment tenants and landlords were given for cleaning indoors, by which agencies, and the agency procedures on which this was based,
(c) the lack of attention or decisions regarding to indoor air quality and recommended cleanup measures, made by EPA and the agencies for months after the attacks despite precedents of EPA having made other, more health-protective decisions in other similar instances (e.g. Libby, Montana's superfund site). Knowing this information should help in designing
(1) improved procedures for intra- and inter-agency communications in the event of environmental disasters,
(2) criteria for evaluating whether an incident, be it a natural or man-made disaster is an Environmental disaster, and procedures for their use,
(3) procedures for immediate, multi-pronged, and continual communications of all information with the affected public
(4) the standards that should be used to protect public health. Per Cate Jenkins memo, the NYC DOH chose a standard many orders of magnitude less protective than the one in one million standard that EPA typically chooses.
3. To issue recommendations on EPA emergency actions in the case of suspected environmental accidents, disasters, releases. Which federal agency takes the lead in protecting public health in such a circumstance? How do they coordinate, on what topics, and in what time frame? How fast should they communicate and coordinate with the state and local agencies? How is the responsibility and work to be divided?
4. To issue, publicize and widely disseminate a report combining measures and procedures used to measure all specific pollutants from ALL air quality and dust measurements that have been taken by EPA, other agencies, and private companies since 9/11. It would be helpful if this, and other reports you issue, were available for download, and that data be available in database or excel format that can be used in research (PDF format cannot).
5. To characterize and quantify the extent to which the public's health has been adversely affected (those working on the pile, those living/working in the area, children, elderly, immune-depressed, short- and long-term) by the air pollution from the WTC attacks, or at least make detailed recommendations of who should research this.
6. To seek to make the overall results of extensive medical tests (baseline and continuing) being done on the entire group NYC fire-fighters to become public.
7. To make determine and make recommendations on how much money is necessary to examine and conduct long-term follow-up on all those exposed to air pollution and dusts from the 9/11 attacks, and from where the source of funding might come, and seek increased federal funding to cover these costs.
8. To recommend that the National Academy of Sciences conduct a risk assessment of the public health impacts due to the air pollution caused by the 9/11 attacks.
9. To ensure that guidance is disseminated to all physicians and hospitals in the area to look for and properly treat those exposed to WTC air. According to Mt Sinai 2/4/02 memo to help physicians determine whether pulmonary symptoms are related to WTC, some symptoms from exposure can begin as late as 3 weeks after exposure or cessation of exposure. If physicians had to be given guidance on these issues, many of those exposed are likely not to realize their symptoms are WTC-related. Why didn't the City, State or Federal government issue this memo in September? Efforts are not being made to locate all those who were exposed and to characterize their exposures and register their symptoms over time.
10. To recommend and publicize specific measures that need to be taken immediately to clean up the downtown area of dangerous dusts and to prevent the continuous reentrainment and spread of these dusts from the ground zero area into surrounding areas.
11. To investigate existing EPA, DEP, DOH standards and procedures to see whether standards required to prevent, control, or remediate environmental contamination in environmental disasters, accidents, or releases were not used to prevent, control or remediate pollution in this case (and why). Example: to prevent the spread of incinerator ash when it is transported from its source to a landfill, federal regulations requires that the generating (and intermediate handling) facility be enclosed and operated with negative air pressure, that the ash is totally wetted, that trucks transporting ash be entirely containerized and sealed to prevent entrainment or leaking onto the ground, and that receiving facilities operate under similar constraints. Despite the fact that the debris from the WTC has the consistency and many properties of incinerator ash, leaky, imperfectly covered trucks are continuously scattering the debris between Ground Zero and the barge at Pier 25. Why aren't existing protective procedures being used? Steps need to be taken (i.e., legislation) to ensure that in all future environmental disasters, the entire array of existing procedures be canvassed and that the most protective procedures appropriate to the situation be utilized.
12. To develop and recommend what measurements need to be taken in the event of an environmental release, accident or disaster, and how the measuring stations should be deployed and operated. It is unconscionable that data taken early on is still dribbling out from the federal government -- e.g., Two samples that were taken inside a high-rise apartment and in a gymnasium across from the wreckage of the World Trade Center had a pH of 11.8 to 12.1 - equivalent to what would be found in liquid drain cleaner. It is clear that stations were not deployed in concentric rings around ground zero were not done, and few of the measuring stations were in the predominant downwind areas. It is clear that many measurements were "grab" samples, only for five or six minutes. Since the wind direction and speed varies, it is necessary to have continuous, long-term samples looking both for long-term averages and for short-term spikes.
13. To recommend measures that need to be taken immediately to remediate the public health impacts resulting from inhalation and ingestion of polluted air. First we need to identify Everyone who was in the area at the time of the attacks, including the pile and enforcement workers, those who have lived or worked in the area, those who have been hired to clean up apartments and businesses. Then we need to get medical histories to construct a baseline (a Registry). The exposure should be quantified, first by location during each day of the pollution period, and then by the type of activities performed -- those breathing heavily due to working on the pile, running for one's life, etc. involves an increased exposure due to more forceful inhalation (more air and particles brought deeper into the lungs, allowing the possibility for more to be retained long-term in the lung. This study and ongoing medical examinations and treatments, for all diseases that should arise, should be performed, at federal expense, for a period of 20 or 30 years.
14. To investigate the procedures underway at Fresh Kills landfill -- are they protective of workers, what is the airborne dispersion of dangerous materials. Videos on C-SPAN3 online show that not only were many workers not wearing protective respirators on the pile, but they are not at Fresh Kills, with operations proceeding out in the open air. Procedures at the barge should also be investigated; are workers wearing protective gear? Are materials being well-contained?
15. To investigate the disposal and marketing of WTC debris and recyclable steel -- has testing been done to quantify whether this is a hazardous waste, and should be transported and handled under those rules? If it is hazardous waste, is the facility that has been selected for the debris, consistent with federal or state rules? To the extent that scrap steel or other materials are exported to other countries (e.g. steel that has already gone to India and S. Korea), has EPA or any other federal or other agency advised those on the receiving end about the composition of the materials, or protective handling procedures? This isn't the first time a company or municipality in the US has exported toxic waste to another country without proper advice or precautions, and it won't be the last. There should be a law.
16. To encourage research into and adoption of more protective building codes (less toxic materials, evacuable buildings, better fire drill and practice evacuations, better, more well-thought out announcement systems during emergencies. It is arguable that many people died in stairwells too small to evacuate everyone, especially since their capacity was reduced by half due to firefighters climbing them at the same time. It is arguable that some died when they heard Port Authority announcements to go back to their offices. Could the buildings be built with fewer toxics?
17. If the US Attorney General's statements can be taken at face value, we can expect worse terrorist attacks in the future. It is not unlikely that any future attacks will involve some degree of environmental contamination. Many scenarios for future attacks would involve some of the same issues as are being dealt with here (indoor contamination, removal, not just wetting of outdoor contamination). In addition to terrorist attacks, environmental disasters can and have occurred in other ways: industrial accidents, natural disasters (e.g., major earthquakes in urban areas, tornadoes, fires, hurricanes). Utilizing my knowledge of geology, it is a 100% certainty that major west coast cities will suffer even greater destruction (collapses, fires) than they have already due to larger earthquakes in the future. We just can't reliably predict when. Therefore, many of these recommendations will be useful in protecting public health after future disasters.
18. There are no uniform, justifiable procedures for determining the evacuation of nearby populations after an environmental disaster, therefore, we are woefully unprepared for any environmental disasters in the future. This time, the "frozen zone" was not based on specific scientific principles, and neither was the timing of allowing people to return. We should learn from the experience with establishing hurricane evacuation routes, and the procedures taken to order evacuations for approaching hurricanes. As important, it is necessary to develop justifiable procedures for repopulation after an environmental disaster (i.e., the testing that needs to be done, the verification that safe conditions exist).
19. For these reasons, and similar to the decision to establish a National Hurricane Research Center in Coral Gables (when it was realized that we didn't know how to track, predict, evacuate or minimize impacts of hurricanes), we need to establish a permanent Environmental Disaster Research center dedicated to conducting all the research that was needed prior to now to determine and address the synergistic and other impacts on human health of various types of environmental disasters. Examples of research would include investigating the impacts of combinations of pollutants that we have observed in this case. Other areas for research, development, and demonstration would be the measurement technologies for screening for unknown combinations of pollutants, as Dr. Robert Jaffe has developed. This research should then be used to develop new air quality standards to address impacts from combinations of pollutants. Results of the research conducted at this facility would be invaluable to the Congress and those writing air quality, emissions, occupational safety, and NESHAP standards at EPA.
Mercury in Discarded Consumer Products in
the New Jersey MSW Stream
Product Tons Percent
Consumer Batteries (subtotal) 14.25 83.6
Alkaline 8.23 48.3
Mercury Oxide 5.86 34.4
Others .16 .9
Electric Lighting (subtotal) 1.08 6.3
Fluorescent Lamps 1.05 6.1
High Intensity Lamps .03 .2
Paint Residues .37 2.2
Fever Thermometers .59 3.5
Thermostats .35 2.0
Pigment .23 1.4
Dental Uses .13 0.7
Special Paper Coating .02 0.1
Mercury Light Switches .04 0.3
TOTAL 17.05 100.0
Note: Recognize that this is the discarded waste
stream. A building could easily have
more or less of each of these (consider that paint could exist in large
quantity on the walls, where in a waste stream there would be only the nearly
Trading in Disaster
World Trade Center Scrap Lands in India
By Nityanand Jayaraman and Kenny Bruno
Special to CorpWatch
February 6, 2002
Indian Citizens Group Protests WTC Scrap
Potential Contaminants in World Trade Center Debris
CHENNAI and NEW YORK -- It might seem like a tangent to the tragedy of the Sept 11th attacks: the fate of the thousands of tons of steel that formed the twin towers. As with so many other unwanted materials from the US, more than 30,000 tons of steel scrap -- possibly contaminated with asbestos,
PCBs, cadmium, mercury and dioxins -- has been exported to India and other parts of Asia. Though the risks from the scrap are probably not on the order of the health threats at Ground Zero, the U.S. nevertheless has the obligation to ensure that toxic contamination from the World Trade Center
is not exported to other nations.
At least one shipload, onboard a vessel named Brozna, landed in the South Indian port city of Chennai in early January. The scrap was unloaded, as any routine consignment would be, by port workers with absolutely no protection. Two other ships, Shen Quan Hai and Pindos, also reported to be
carrying World Trade Center scrap berthed and offloaded their cargo in Chennai. But preliminary investigations failed to reveal documentation linking the cargo to the Trade Center. Reports are vague about another shipment making its way into Northern India through the Western port city
Similar shipments have reportedly reached China, where Baosteel Group purchased 50,000 tons of the potentially toxic scrap. Malaysia and South Korea are also reported to have received shipments. Eventually, most of the 1.5 millions tons of scrap from the cleanup may end up dirtying Asian ports
and threatening Asian workers.
Few details are known about who purchased the scrap, but an unidentified Indian trader reportedly bought an undisclosed amount of the World Trade Center debris, and the 33,000 ton shipment onboard the Brozna was collected by Chennai-based Sabari Exim Pvt. Ltd. and removed to the company's
facilities outside the city.
Nor are the names of US-based traders who may have exported the shipments to India known. However, two New Jersey companies were among the bidders that won the contract for removing more than 60,000 tons of Trade Center scrap. New Jersey-based Metal Management Northeast, bought 40, 000 tons and
Hugo Neu Schnitzer, based outside Jersey City, bought 25,000 tons. Schnitzer was reportedly eyeing the Southeast Asian markets, possibly Malaysia, where prices are higher.
Public Health Concerns From Tribeca to Chennai
In this case, it is hard to accuse the US of double standards because US safety regulations were trampled in the chaos over Ground Zero. In lower Manhattan, thousands of rescue workers and residents have been exposed daily to unknown but significant dangers from air contamination. Hundreds of New York firefighters are filing to go on permanent disability, while serious respiratory infections and other chronic health problems afflict area residents, especially children. A few days after the attacks, even President Bush stood on the rubble without protective gear, joining the rest of a city too shocked and too busy to take proper precautions against the toxic cloud over Manhattan.
The steel scrap imported by India and China may not represent the same level of health threat as Ground Zero. But given the amount of material involved, and the short time frame for any decontamination process, it is indeed possible that the steel is contaminated with toxic materials.
In the months after the bombing reports surfaced about the presence of toxic contamination at Ground Zero, including poisons such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), cadmium, mercury, asbestos and lead in the debris. What remains in question is whether toxic chemicals have attached
themselves to the steel scrap.
There are no safe levels of exposure to cancer-causing substances like asbestos, PCBs and dioxins, and toxic metals like cadmium, mercury and lead. Asbestos, PCBs and dioxins may cause harm even in miniscule doses. Also, like cadmium and mercury, once ingested or inhaled, they resist degradation or excretion and tend to build up to dangerous levels in the body over the long run.
Insurance companies like American International Group and Liberty Mutual have refused coverage to the demolition contractors charged with the clean-up. The contractors fear that without insurance they will be driven into bankruptcy by an anticipated flood of lawsuits over asbestos, mercury and other toxins released into the air by the collapse of the twin towers and clean up efforts, according to the New York Times.
Not Enough Information
Contamination of steel scrap is a common concern in the scrap industry. As far as CorpWatch has been able to determine, US authorities have not studied the levels of contaminants in the Trade Center scrap that was exported. If they have, the information has not reached Indian authorities
or port workers.
Trade union groups swiftly moved into action when the exports were reported last month, but were hamstrung by the lack of information. "The Port Authorities tell us that steel scrap is legal. And unless we find evidence of contamination, we can't stop the shipment," said S.R. Kulkarni, secretary of the Mumbai-based All India Port & Dock Workers Union.
Nor has the information been forthcoming in the United States. The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the USEPA after US public health activists suspected regulatory officials were downplaying the toxic contamination in
and around Ground Zero.
However, Chennai-based lawyer T. Mohan says there's enough doubt raised about the safety of the debris to warrant precautionary steps. "There were talks to declare Ground Zero a Superfund site. That's proof enough for us to be concerned that this consignment may be contaminated," he noted.
Under the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, it falls to the Indian Government to prevent the import of wastes if they are found hazardous. That's because the US refuses to sign the Basel Convention and is therefore not bound by the treaty. This includes an amendment know as the Basel Ban prohibiting developed countries from exporting hazardous material to industrializing nations like India. But Mohan believes that morally, "the burden of proving [the waste] is not
hazardous rests with the US exporters and US government."
Despite a Indian Supreme Court order prohibiting the imports of hazardous waste into India, US shipments top the list of hazardous waste exports to India. Everything from zinc ash, toxic ships-for-scrap and lead-bearing wastes are routinely sent to unscrupulous importers in India. The Indian regulatory agencies, notably the port and customs authorities and the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, have maintained their habitual silence on matters such as this that pertain to human health and environment.
"They seem more intent on passing the buck to each other rather than dealing with the problem and hauling in the US Government for negligence," says attorney Mohan.
Steel reprocessing is a dirty business, especially when the steel contains plastic, chemical and heavy metal contaminants. In fact, secondary steel almost always contains some toxic materials. Lower wages and laxer environmental regulations in Asian countries mean that Asian traders and reprocessors can offer better prices for the steel scrap than their European or North American counterparts. That is one of the reasons why scrap metal is exported to Asia in the first place.
The export of contaminated scrap and hazardous wastes to industrializing countries fits a long-standing pattern of environmental discrimination by the United States. An infamous example is the shipload of toxic incinerator ash from Philadelphia that traveled the oceans for two years before ending up on a beach in Haiti in 1988.
In a February 4th letter to the US embassy in New Delhi, three major Indian trade unions, Greenpeace and People's Union for Civil Liberties blasted the US Government for its "continued inaction" in stemming the export of wastes and scrap to industrializing countries. They called it "a consistent pattern in keeping with USA's tacit, if not active, support for toxic trade."
"We're totally opposed to the US and other rich countries using India as a dumping ground for all kinds of wastes and rejects. Such dumping of steel scrap is adversely affecting the major steel plants in our country, apart from causing environment and health problems," says P.K. Ganguly, the New Delhi-based Secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
The way out of the current bind over the World Trade Center scrap is simple, say environmentalists. United States authorities should provide evidence that the scrap lying in India is free of poisonous contaminants. If the it is found to be contaminated, then immediate steps should be taken
to return the consignment to the US.
If, on the other hand, the shipment is found clean, there may be no immediate threat of exposure to toxic chemicals. Even if the scrap turns out not to be dangerous, the question remains: who profits --and who
suffers -- from shipping valuable steel scrap to be recycled half-way across the globe in India before it returns to the US in its new incarnation as soup cans or luxury cars?
Nityanand Jayaraman is an independent, investigative reporter based in India.
Kenny Bruno coordinates CorpWatch's Corporate-Free UN Campaign.
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. Report of the Task Force on Mercury Emissions Standard Setting; Volume III, Technical and Regulatory Issues, NJ DEPE. Trenton, NJ January, 1993. Table 2.6