Further comments by Maggie Clarke, Ph.D., QEP  mclarke@hunter.cuny.edu

on EPA document for peer review:

Exposure and Human Health Evaluation of Airborne

Pollution from the World Trade Center Disaster

July 15, 2003


I take strenuous exception to the widely publicized conclusion that EPA issued on this report prior to even having the report peer reviewed, “Persons in the community were not likely to have a short- or long-term adverse health effects caused by exposure to elevations in ambient air concentrations of the contaminants evaluated in this report. (NCEA p. 2)”.   


There are a few problems with this.  First, this not peer-reviewed conclusion was used by EPA to silence those who wanted EPA’s voluntary “cleanup” program to continue beyond December 28, 2002, as it was fed to the press on the very date that EPA closed the program to new registrants.  Using scientific reports for such political purposes prior to scientific peer review calls into question the purpose of the peer review process.  If the peer review finds an error in a widely publicized conclusion, will that misperception be undone by the work of the peer reviewers?  It isn’t likely without a great deal of clear reporting to the press to emphasize the misinformation provided before, in tandem with the new information given in language easily understood by the public.  (E.g. “ambient” is a useless word to convey meaning to the average layperson; they ignore it since they don’t understand it, interpreting the results to mean – no one will have long-term adverse health effects from the WTC disaster.  They don’t understand the nuance unless it is clearly presented that this is one report about one aspect of the exposure.  Even then, when information is dribbled out over time, the public cannot be expected to keep track and integrate all the results together to come up with one comprehensive conclusion).  Therefore, the suggestion that EPA should release this report which focuses on one of many aspects of exposure (again) and say (again) that there will be no short- or long-term health impacts, is flawed since it will just further reinforce misunderstanding by the press and the public.  If the purpose is to inform the public with accurate information, it is necessary to provide the full story at one time.


Another problem with conclusion #3 is that the report does not support it.  The peer review is approaching the evaluation of this conclusion by disaggregating the contribution of each of the contaminants to long-term health effects (e.g., by evaluating whether PM2.5 exposure data indicate long-term adverse health impacts plus the effects of each of the other contaminants).  This ignores synergistic impacts, such as smokers’ having 80 to 90 times the risk as non-smokers when exposed to WTC asbestos (see my earlier comments – Mt. Sinai research).  This conclusion ignores other combinations, such as asbestos plus fibrous glass, both of which can cause lung cancer, and perhaps through similar mechanism.  There are numerous other carcinogens (dioxins, PAHs, some heavy metals etc), many not even measured in air or dust by EPA.  What are the effects of lung irritants such as the extremely high pH on hastening the onset of lung cancer and other long-term illnesses such as asthma?  Can we ignore all those new onset cases that have been identified and continue not to look for others that have not been diagnosed yet?  After just 3 hours of exposure in early October, 2001 at Chambers and Centre, my lungs were sore.  I can’t imagine what 100 days of that exposure would have done to me.

I believe it is irresponsible to suggest that the health effects of this very complex mixture of air pollutants can be assessed by evaluating the effect of one pollutant at a time.  Therefore, I suggest that until a risk assessment of the synergistic impacts of all the pollutants that were elevated above background (not just those that exceeded standards) is presented, EPA should not continue to say there will be no short- or long-term health impacts, and that steps be made to clarify to the press that previous statements were unfounded.



Instead of invoking the precautionary principle, when it should have been clear that this disaster was a combination of enormous pollution sources (e.g., asbestos and fiberglass factories, poorly designed incinerators and crematoria) which EPA regulates by shutting down sources in violation, EPA willfully misled the press and the public to think there was no problem.  So as to not confuse us with facts, EPA did not take adequate measurements of environmental conditions immediately in the aftermath of 9/11, ignoring large classes of obvious pollutants (e.g. PAH, Hg), and refused offers of assistance, including sampling equipment, from other government agencies, namely Region 8 EPA. 


Quote from Cate Jenkins[1]:  “EPA's Region 8 in Denver called Region 2 on September 12, a day after the disaster. In EPA's Region 8 in Denver called Region 2 on September 12, a day after the disaster. In a conference call, Region 8 offered Region 2 the free use of 30 to 40 TEM and SEM (scanning electron microscope) testing capabilities for WTC dusts. Region 8 had a contract with EMSL Laboratories for the TEM's and SEM's, which were being used to evaluate soils at the Libby, Montana Superfund site. Region 8 was willing to divert its resources to Region 2 to assist after the disaster. Twelve of the TEM/SEM's were close by and could have been in Lower Manhattan in 40 minutes.”  Region 2 refused the offer of the equipment for testing lower Manhattan, but used it for testing their own building at 290 Broadway.  What is wrong with this picture?


Richard Tropp, a research professor at the Desert Research Institute, rtropp@dri.edu told me that his institute also offered monitoring equipment and personnel after 9/11 but was refused by EPA Region 2.  This lack of equipment resulted in a poorer dataset than could have been obtained, and an unnecessarily inferior risk assessment. 


This refusal of offers of monitoring/sampling equipment had cascading preventable deleterious effects on exposures which I will outline.  More important, if EPA had had data within a few days of 9/11 detailing the breadth and intensity contamination from the collapse and the huge amounts of products of incomplete combustion emanating from the fires (probably equivalent to dozens of uncontrolled solid/hazardous waste incinerators at ground level – something it never would have permitted), EPA might have not issued the premature statements that have formed the foundation for the press, the public and local environmental and health agencies to make subsequent bad decisions.  (I saw Thomas Dunne, Associate Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response admit at the late June, 2003 Air and Waste Management Association conference that EPA had indeed spoken too soon – before data had been gathered to permit the assurances it mistakenly gave)  But this is not widely known. 


A few of the poor decisions arising from this lack of early data range from:

  • EPA delegating indoor cleanup to NYCDEP without continuing oversight to realize DEP was delegating this to landlords who ignored it or left it to tenants;
  • EPA delegating the extinguishing of the fires (an unprecedented pollution source in the midst of the most densely populated city in the country) to NYC, without oversight to realize that NYC was not taking the steps necessary to quickly suffocate the fire and prevent further exposures.  Suffocating these fires once the rescue mission was over may not have been more complicated than extinguishing scores of Iraqi oil fires, but only a few thin streams of water were used;
  • NYCDOH advising the public via its website to clean up the hazardous waste in their homes and businesses themselves, with a paper mask and a wet rag, ensuring considerable unprotected exposures to reentrained dust – by residents, janitors, day laborers, and even volunteer Southern Baptist schoolchildren bused up from the South during Thanksgiving, 2001,
  • no government agency advising residents to reduce exposure to contamination (by avoiding strenuous exercise outdoors.. as is done during ozone alerts);
  • EPA devising a voluntary “cleanup” of a limited number of residences using an extremely flawed, never peer-reviewed protocol (see attached critique) which ignores the dust in most HVAC systems,
  • the New York City press virtually ignoring information contradicting EPA’s premature pronouncements, leaving the public misinformed, while press in other cities broke stories (Andrew Schneider, St. Louis Post-Dispatch) about the extremely high pH of the dust, and the Libby connection. 


All of these bad decisions add up to unnecessarily having increased the amount of exposures, and therefore, health impacts from the WTC environmental disaster.  This is important to bring up now, because policies like refusing equipment, blind delegation to local authority, the practice of giving press conclusions from documents PRIOR to their peer review, and the practice of giving premature or unsupported statements to the press, have not changed in the agency, and therefore, should any environmental disaster occur again, the same kind of bad decisions will be made again.  I recommend that this peer review panel make a series of recommendations on these issues to EPA to rectify these policy lapses in emergency response so that in the future exposures to toxic contaminants will be reduced or eliminated.


I’d like to dispute one statement given 7/14 by Lorber – that “EPA’s entire database is available for download”.  I asked Berry Shore in October, 2001 for EPA’s entire database at the time, but he refused.  I learned at the Air and Waste Management Association conference in Baltimore, June 2002 that EPA had by then amassed 250,000 pages of data.  This is NOT available for download.  EPA has always belatedly put a tiny fraction of the data at its disposal up on its website.  By what means has the data been reduced from 250,000 pages to a few?


Another point:  EPA has assumed that everyone was evacuated from the “danger” area for the full length of time during which there were hazardous conditions.  There is nothing to substantiate this and it is, indeed, false.   For one, there was no data to establish a danger area.  There was no evacuation plan on file, as there are in places like Miami to escape hurricanes.  There were numerous cases from Battery Park City to Chinatown, where residents stayed in their apartments, usually because they had nowhere else to go.  The government did not offer to put people up in hotels or provide conveyance for those unable to get out on their own power.  This is another case of EPA delegating to the City programs that have considerable impact on public health, assuming that it was handled perfectly, never bothering to check. 


Also, showing the satellite image of the plume heading south “into the water” and representing that as the predominant plume direction is misinformation.  The plume predominantly went west to east into Brooklyn, and on 9/12/01 in the afternoon, when the plume was dense, the wind shifted for many hours to bring the plume north over Manhattan, where the smell was palpable into the Bronx (I saw this as it happened and smelled it on 42nd and later on 72nd St).  There are numerous photos of the plume showing this on www.911ea.org


In general, I implore the peer review panel to think proactively about how EPA can and should change its policies and procedures to do a better job next time.  Don’t think narrowly just about this document, discounting decisions that were made in the past just in the case of the WTC as being behind us.  This is a golden opportunity to prevent bad decisions / exposures / health impacts in the future.  Please think expansively.  There are numerous holes in our knowledge, our ambient, indoor, short-, mid- and long-term, synergistic standards, our evacuation plans, interagency communications, etc.  You can specify these, and your recommendations could be used to make necessary improvements.  Just as the government eventually established a National Hurricane Center in Miami to research, track, predict, and evacuate from natural disasters (hurricanes), recommend that an Environmental Disasters Research Center be established in lower Manhattan (Governor’s Island) to resolve all the scientific, engineering, and policy holes, to prevent needless bad decisions in the face of future disasters.


Problems with EPA's Scopes of Work

for Remediation of WTC Contamination


Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D, QEP, CUNY faculty, mclarke@hunter.cuny.edu


Statement endorsed by:

LMTC (Lower Manhattan Tenants Coalition) and

9/11 Environmental Action:  www.911ea.org


October 22, 2002


(These comments are in response to the scopes of work for cleaning and monitoring contractors, which were developed by EPA as an outgrowth of the document TERA is peer reviewing.)


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.  Studies have indicated that combinations of pollutants acting synergistically can result in toxic effects many times higher. Some of these 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.


These toxic and carcinogenic substances were dispersed over a large area for several months.  At different times people could smell the plume in upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey; materials recognizable from the WTC landed in Brooklyn.  US Geological Survey aerial maps in late September, 2001 show asbestos contamination in Manhattan miles from the WTC.


These substances did not just contaminate the outdoor air, as USEPA has held, but it 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" can continue to be sources of contaminants for many years.  Mold is also a problem in places due to inattention to containing the buildings after they were contaminated (both to prevent spread of toxics and infiltration of water).


EPA's Scopes of Work for remediation do not take all the above facts into account. EPA's scopes and standards for abatement have not been peer reviewed by the scientific community at large.  Below are some of the most substantial problems with the proposed remediation.



Where Cleaning is to take place


The boundary for EPA's remediation program is still Canal, Allen and Pike.  (EPA told us it was an arbitrary boundary based on FEMA's unscientific suggestion.)  EPA has 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.



Testing vs. Remediation


1.  EPA has decided to give tenants the ability to have their apartments tested, but not remediated.  This 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.  Choice of testing can preclude later cleanup, since EPA will only test for the presence of asbestos.  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.


2.  "Owners and managers of residential buildings and coop 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."  (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.)


3.  "Regardless of whether a building owner or manager has requested the cleaning of all common areas, the EPA's Project Monitor will visually evaluate public common areas such as the building lobby, hallways, stairways and elevator interiors.  If dust is visible, these areas will be cleaned". (What happens if dust, as in carpets, is not visible?  Also, EPA is not clear about the quantity of visible dust that triggers a cleanup.)


4.  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.  Will the criteria here, too, be visual inspection?


5.  "If a tenant or tenant association asks for testing or cleaning, EPA will contact building owner to secure permission to do cleaning of common areas and HVAC."


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.


2.  "Curtains, fabric window treatments, upholstery and other materials that cannot be cleaned by wet wiping shall be HEPA vacuumed two times.  Fabric covered furniture will be vacuumed using a stiff brush attachment "  (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.)


3.  "Window air conditioners will be vacuumed then removed from their position and vacuumed internally.  Filters will be HEPA vacuumed and reinstalled." 


4.  "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.


5.  Only "[t]he 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.


6.  "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."  (My suggestion:  wet cleaning, then wet wipe sampling)


7.  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.


8.  "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.


9  '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!!!)


10.  "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.)


11.  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.


Type of Testing


1.  Testing is just for asbestos, and precludes cleanup if asbestos is not above EPA's threshold (based on one in 10,000 cancer risk.  EPA's usual health standards are based on one in one million cancer risk.  (Other contaminants could be quite high, but testing would not show this, since only asbestos is measured.)


EPA says that it has chosen a one in 10,000 cancer risk over 30 years for NYC (rather than the usual lifetime one in a million risk) because excessive particulate matter in samples has clogged the filters on which they are trying to find asbestos.  This finding should indicate that further cleaning is warranted with restesting based on a clearance standard equivalent to the lifetime one in one million risk, not that people should be exposed to a greater risk!  If clogging of sampling filters is a problem, EPA should operate 3 samplers side-by-side for one-third the time.


2.  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.)


3.  "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.


4.  "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, the lack of input from interested informed scientists is also problematic.  The TERA peer review does not include these protocols, which ostensibly were written subsequent to this document that justifies selection of contaminants of potential concern.


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] Comments on the EPA Office of Inspector General’s 1/27/03 interim report titled:

EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Towers Collapse”A DOCUMENTARY BASIS FOR LITIGATION, July 4, 2003, Prepared by Cate Jenkins, Ph.D.* Environmental Scientist, Waste Identification Branch, Hazardous Waste Identification Division, Mail Code 5304W, Office of Solid Waste, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, US Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460 jenkins.cate@epa.gov