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USGS assessment
The Transfer of the EPA Ombudsman
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Misleading the public

 
  

Project: Environmental impact of 911 attacks

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(September 12, 2001)

       The City of New York samples air at Centre and Chambers St. (7 blocks Northeast of Ground Zero perimeter, east of Broadway) and Spruce and Gold St. (7 to 8 blocks Northeast of Ground Zero perimeter, east of Broadway). Both of these sites are upwind from the World Trade Center disaster site. TEM tests reveal that these air samples have high levels of asbestos fibers suspended in the air—123.73 s/mm2 at Centre and Chambers St., and 157.48 s/mm2 at Spruce and Gold St. [Jenkins, 7/15/2004] Neither the City of New York nor the EPA will warn residents about these alarming asbestos levels. When the city publishes results of its polarized light microscopy (PLM) tests on October 24 (see (October 24, 2001)), it does not include these sampling results, or even mention that tests were performed at this location. Similarly, when it publishes the results of the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests on its website in early 2002 (see Early 2002), this data is again left out. However, this data is given to the State of New York on November 13 (see November 13, 2001). Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist in the EPA's Hazardous Waste Identification Division, will later suggest that the omission was intentional in order to obscure the fact that contamination was occurring considerably north of Ground Zero. [Jenkins, 7/15/2004] The City of New York will not return to these locations to conduct additional monitoring so there is no additional data on contamination in these locations. [Jenkins, 7/15/2004]
          

(September 12, 2001-December 31, 2001)

       The White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) dictates the content of EPA press releases to the EPA's Public Information Officer in a series of emails. “100 percent of what CEQ added was added: 100 percent of what CEQ deleted was deleted,” an internal EPA investigation will later report. [EPA IG, 1/27/2003 cited in Jenkins, 7/4/2003]
People and organizations involved: Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
          

12:40:37, September 25, 2001

       Barbara Rubin, a resident of Lower Manhattan, emails the EPA asking the agency specific questions about air quality in New York City. Rubin explains in her email that she suffers from severe asthma. She asks:
“What are the parameters of the hot zone and the warm zone geographically?”

“What are the current particulate matter concentrations being found right now in Manhattan versus outlying areas. How does it compare with previous counts?”

“Does the sampling separately analyze primary versus secondary particulate concentrations of PM [particulate] in the air? What results have been found?”

“Is anything known about what chemicals are bound to the soot and dust from such sources as the burning jet fuel, smoldering furnishings, plastics, electrical wire, fiberglass etc.?”

“With regard to health issues, does the EPA have any guidelines about recommending such protections as particulate masks when PM is in excess of certain levels? As you know, the use of bronchodilators to relieve asthmatic symptoms just leaves lung tissue open for deeper invasions by more allergens and foreign bodies (PM). The resulting inflammation requires steroids and the cycle just repeats itself.”
The EPA's response directs her to the agency's website, which does not contain the answers to her questions. [EPA, 9/25/01]
People and organizations involved: Barbara Rubin
          

September 13, 2001

       EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announces that the EPA is monitoring levels of airborne contaminants in and around the area of Manhattan. She says that samples so far are “reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.” The tests “found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos.” In Brooklyn, which is directly in the WTC smoke plume's path (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), she says that “levels of lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds in air samples ... were not detectable or not of concern.” [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/13/01] However, her statements contradict results from transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests that were conducted the previous day (see (September 12, 2001)).
People and organizations involved: Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency
          

September 16, 2001

       The EPA and OSHA release a joint statement asserting that the air in downtown New York City is safe to breathe. “[N]ew samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern,” the agencies claim. [EPA, 9/16/01] But it is later learned that the press release had been heavily edited under pressure from the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Critical passages in the original draft were either deleted or modified to downplay public health risks posed by contaminants that were released into the air during the collapse of the World Trade Center. [Newsday, 8/26/03; EPA Office of Inspector General, 8/21/2003]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
          

September 16, 2001

       The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes a “fact sheet” on the dust and debris that blanketed surrounding streets and penetrated numerous buildings during the collapse of the World Trade Center. The first section, titled, “What is in the dust,” states only: “Dust is a mixture of very fine particles that originally made-up the materials of the WTC and the aircraft that struck it. These particles differ depending on what material the dust came from, how the dust was created, and what happened to the dust after it was released. Analysis of dust samples will provide information on components of the dust. We expect that materials that would be present would be at concentrations lower than those normally associated with health effects.” The flyer makes no effort to name the toxic chemicals and other harmful substances that were known to have been in the two towers. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 9/16/2001; Kupferman, 2003]
People and organizations involved: US Health and Human Services (HSS)
          

September 18, 2001

       The State of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation monitors record dioxin levels more than five times higher than normal in water discharged into the Hudson River from a sewer pipe at Rector St. Additionally, the monitors find PCBs and dioxin levels in the river's sediment that are several times higher than figures recorded in an earlier 1993 study. The EPA does not provide the public with this information. Rather the data is found in internal EPA documents later obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through the Freedom of Information Act in October (see October 19, 2001). [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media, 10/26/2001]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
          

September 18, 2001

       EPA air monitors detect sulfur dioxide levels that are so elevated that “according to one industrial hygienist, they exceeded the EPA's standard for a classification of ‘hazardous,’ ” the New York Daily News later reports. The EPA does not volunteer this information to the public. Rather the data is discovered in internal EPA documents that are obtained by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project through the Freedom of Information Act in October (see October 19, 2001). [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media, 10/26/2001]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
          

September 27, 2001

       After USGS scientists complete their analysis of the dust samples collected in New York City (see September 17, 2001-September 19, 2001-) —which found asbestos, an “alphabet soup of heavy metals,” and an extremely high pH level (see September 20, 2001) —the team emails the results to “all the government contacts the team had” including people at the EPA and FEMA, as well as to the federal emergency response coordinator. The EPA never informs the public of the dust's high pH. “We anticipated that the results would have been shared with the people on the ground, those at risk, but it looks like the information never got to those who needed it,” Geoffrey Plumlee, a geochemist, will later tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/02; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/02 (B)] Some scientists will suggest that the dust's high pH is a major cause of what will come to be known as the “WTC cough” (see September 9, 2002).
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Service (USGS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  Additional Info 
          

(late September 2001)

       Observers question whether federal, state, and city officials are putting economic interests ahead of the health of New York Lower Manhattan residents and WTC rescue and recovery workers.
 Additional Info 
          

Early October 2001

       EPA officials distribute respirators to employees at the EPA's Region 2 building at 290 Broadway Street after employees complain about air quality in the building. EPA spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes explains that the masks were distributed for the “voluntary use of those employees who might have respiratory ailments or who feel some temporary discomfort from the air,” the New York Daily News reports. [New York Daily News, 10/9/01 cited in Jenkins, 7/4/2003]
          

October 19, 2001

       The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project obtains internal EPA documents containing data that the agency did not include in the monitoring results it posted on its website on October 3 (see (October 3, 2001)). The documents, which include hundreds of pages of daily monitoring reports, reveal that “[d]ioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead and chromium are among the toxic substances detected in the air and soil around the WTC site by Environmental Protection Agency [monitoring] equipment—sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” For example, one test indicated water being discharged into the Hudson River contained chromium, copper, lead and zinc at levels “elevated to several orders of magnitude above ambient water-quality criteria for most metals.” Also included is disturbing data about the air quality. “On numerous days, sulfur dioxide readings in the air at a half-dozen sites in Lower Manhattan have been far higher than the EPA's ambient air quality standards,” one document reveals. [New York Daily News, 10/21/2001; Thomas Crosbie Media, 10/26/2001; Associated Press, 10/27/2001; Kupferman, 2003]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
          

(October 24, 2001)

       The City of New York posts test results for asbestos in ambient outdoor air using the polarized light microscopy (PLM) test method on the NYC Department of Environmental Protection website. [Jenkins, 7/15/2004] New York City DEP test results based on the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) testing method are not posted until early 2002 (see Early 2002).
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency
          

November 13, 2001

       The City of New York supplies the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with the original version of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) test results on air asbestos levels. [Jenkins, 7/15/2004] A censored version of the data is later released to the public in early 2002 (see Early 2002).
People and organizations involved: New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
          

November 13, 2001

       The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) receives documents from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the city's Department of Health (DOH) that had been requested through the state's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The request was initially denied on grounds that the documents were related to an “on-going criminal investigation.” NYELJP receives them only after an appeal and repeated demands. The documents reveal that during spot testing the DEC's monitors became clogged with dust and were not subsequently replaced or re-set as they should have been. The documents also contain NYC DOH test results showing that some of the air monitors located in City Hall offices and other spaces in downtown Manhattan had at times been “overloaded” with dust. Instead of recalibrating the equipment and re-testing, the department simply ceased testing. Rather than inform the public about the overload dust finding, the agency listed the results as “N.A.” on its website. [Kupferman, 2003]
People and organizations involved: New York City Department of Health, New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York Environmental Law and Justice Project
          

December 3, 2001

       Cate Jenkins, a 22-year veteran EPA employee, writes an internal memo to Robert Dellinger, Director of the Hazardous Waste Identification Division, and Lillian Bagus, Chief of the Waste Identification Branch, in which she argues that the EPA should clean NYC homes and businesses contaminated by the WTC collapse. “The cleanup of all affected homes in Lower Manhattan should be performed by EPA or other governmental bodies at public expense, utilizing the methods in the NESHAP or as proposed by certified asbestos abatement experts and approved by EPA regional NESHAP coordinators as meeting all CAA requirements,” she says. “The criteria for areas receiving such cleanups should include an adequate margin of safety, possibly relating to distance zones around contaminated areas over 0.1 percent asbestos or even lower.” Jenkins' memo also addresses EPA official statements that have been misleading and deceptive, noting that the EPA has claimed repeatedly that asbestos levels are safe even as they report sampling results which exceed the purported maximum “safe level” of one percent. [International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, 1/21/02 Sources: Jenkins Memo, 12/3/2001]
People and organizations involved: Robert Dellinger, Lillian Bagus, Cate Jenkins, PhD.
          

Early 2002

       The City of New York posts the results of its transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tests on air asbestos levels on the New York City Department of Environmental Protection website. The data does not match the results that had been given to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation back in November (see November 13, 2001). Test results indicating excessive asbestos levels have been either deleted or changed to “not detected.” [Jenkins, 7/15/2004]
          

January 31, 2002

       Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health John L. Henshaw writes in a letter to Mr. Lowell Peterson of the law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, P.C., that since “materials containing asbestos were used in the construction of the Twin Towers, the settled dust from their collapse must be presumed to contain asbestos.” [Sources: Letter from John L. Henshaw to Mr. Lowell Peterson]
People and organizations involved: John L. Henshaw, Lowell Peterson
          

March 27, 2002

       The EPA's National Ombudsman's office publishes a report criticizing the EPA's response to the contamination that was caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center. Robert J. Martin, the EPA National Ombudsman, finds that the “EPA has neither fully used its legal authorities nor its existing hazardous materials response capabilities as a leader of the National Response System to aid the victims of the terrorist attack....” [Sources: Findings and Recommendations to Date, 3/27/2002]
Observations -

The EPA “initiated the National Contingency Plan (NCP) by mobilizing EPA On-Scene Coordinators (OSCs) [from various locations in the US to work] in Lower Manhattan (see (8:50 a.m. EST) September 11, 2001) to sample indoor and outdoor air, dust and water to, among other things, determine the levels of contamination.”

“[T]he United States Geological Survey (USGS) testified that the plume of contaminated dust from the attacks was highly caustic with pH readings at least as high as 12.1 (see September 20, 2001).”

“The Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has concluded that all dust from the World Trade Center attack must be presumed to be asbestos containing material (ACM) (see January 31, 2002).”

“During the last thirty years as a leader of the National Response System, EPA has used the National Contingency Plan as a framework to perform indoor air testing and remediation where there have been releases of hazardous material into homes, schools, and/or offices throughout the United States.”

Conclusions -

“A clear reading of the definition of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), leads to the reasonable conclusion that all of the material, released from the attack may be a hazardous waste.”

“[A]ny cleanup of this dust, should have been and must now be performed in Ml compliance with the OSHA regulations including but not limited to 29 CFR 1910 and 1926.”

“The EPA is not being honest about the presence of EPA On Scene-Coordinators in New York (see October 5, 2001) (see October 9, 2001-October 19, 2001) (see March 11th, 2002).”

“EPA has not fully discharged its duties under PDD (Presidential Directive) 62 (see November 28, 2001), the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972), and the 2001 OMB Annual Report to Congress on Combating Terrorism (see August 2001). EPA has abandoned its responsibilities for cleaning up buildings (both inside and out) that are contaminated, or that are being re-contaminated, as a result of the uncontrolled chemical releases from the World Trade Center terrorist attack.”

Recommendations -

“EPA Region II should, pursuant to authorities under Presidential Directive PDD 62, and the National Contingency Plan (NCF) immediately clean the ducts and upgrade the ventilation systems to install high efficiency filtration at the Stuyvesant High School during spring break.”

“EPA Region II should execute authorities under Presidential Directive PDB 62, the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and consistent with Administrator Whitman's statement in Libby, Montana four days before the World Trade Center terrorist attack, issue legal guarantees to all building owners, building managers, local businesses, the New York City Board of Education, and condominium and coop owners to protect them from assuming the costs of cleanup from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.”

“Consistent with Presidential Directive PDD 62, the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and Administrator Whitman's statement in Libby, Montana four days before the World Trade Center terrorist attack, EPA Region II should cleanup all impacted buildings (interiors and exteriors) in conjunction with corresponding remediation at ‘ground zero.’ ”

People and organizations involved: Robert J. Martin, Environmental Protection Agency
          

April 2003

       When asked to comment on allegations that the EPA had intentionally used testing methods incapable of detecting ultra fine particles and fibers in order not to find asbestos and other contaminants in Lower Manhattan, agency spokesperson Mary Mears tells Salon Magazine, “There are certain differences of opinion that will not be resolved.” She dismisses the fact that independent labs have found much greater levels of contamination than the EPA's tests, arguing that the private labs may not have used precise EPA methods. She also denies that conditions in Manhattan are unsafe. “We do not agree that this is a public health concern,” she says. “We have not seen the evidence, we do not see the danger.” She explains that the volunteer program is not meant to address a safety problem, just calm the nerves of Lower Manhattan residents. “While we felt there wasn't a big risk in the long term, we felt a need to offer something to those residents,” she said. “We do not feel this is a public-health emergency. But it goes well beyond anything that could be called a PR campaign.” [Salon, 4/15/2003]
People and organizations involved: Mary Mears, Environmental Protection Agency
          

August 21, 2003

       The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) releases its investigative report on the EPA's response to the environmental consequences resulting from the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center towers. [BNA Daily Environment Report, 3/20/2003 Sources: EPA August 21, 2003] The report, titled, “EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Disaster Collapse: Challenges, Successes, and Areas for Improvement,” concludes:
The agency did not have sufficient data to support its claim that air in Lower Manhattan following September 11 was “safe to breathe” (see September 16, 2001).

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) “heavily influenced” the EPA's press releases, minimizing the risk to public health. Selected emails analyzed by OIG “indicated that CEQ dictated the content of early press releases” (see (September 12, 2001-December 31, 2001)).

The EPA does not have an adequate system for reviewing and approving the content of EPA press releases.

The EPA misled the public by failing to acknowledge that “health standards do not exist” for the cumulative simultaneous impact of exposure to more than one toxin and that the synergistic effects resulting from these combinations are not well-understood.

The EPA Region 2 incorrectly applied AHERA and NESHAP asbestos standards as safety benchmarks when in fact these referred to the detection limits of certain testing methods (see (September 12, 2001)).

The EPA failed to consider the short-term impacts of acute exposure to various toxins.

The EPA lacked sufficient data on 10 of the 14 “pollutants of concern” identified by scientists as possible components of the WTC dust and debris.

The EPA based its assessments on a risk standard of 1-in-10,000 for only some of carcinogenic pollutants thought to be contained in the clouds instead of the 1-in-1,000,000 acceptable-risk standard. It also ignored the agency's traditional reliance on the 1-in-100,000 level, which usually triggers corrective action.

The OIG determined there is “no evidence that EPA attempted to conceal data results from the public.” However, EPA scientist Cate Jenkins provides evidence the EPA and the City of New York DEP did in fact alter and in effect, conceal data results (see July 15, 2004).

The OIG finds that the EPA should have implemented the National Contingency Program (see 1972), which would have given EPA jurisdiction over other government agencies and control over the issue of indoor air contamination. Critics of this report will argue that the EPA had in fact implemented the NCP immediately after the attacks (see After November 1, 2001).

People and organizations involved: EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG), Cate Jenkins, PhD., Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
          

July 15, 2004

       Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist in the EPA's Hazardous Waste Identification Division, releases a memorandum arguing that “both EPA and NYC deliberately concealed, altered, falsified, and deleted data showing asbestos levels that both EPA and NYC declared unsafe.” [Sources: Memorandum from Cate Jenkins, 7/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Cate Jenkins, PhD.
          


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