Problems with EPA's Scopes of Work

for Remediation of WTC Contamination


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


Statement endorsed by:

LMTC (Lower Manhattan Tenants Coalition) and

9/11 Environmental Action:


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.