Asbestos Remains a Problem Near the World Trade Center

Scientist Claims Clean Up Inadequate & Recommends Superfund Declaration

NEW YORK, NY-February 1, 2002-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ombudsman Robert Martin recently opened an investigation into how the agency has handled air quality concerns in the World Trade Center area since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The study will concentrate on the type of testing performed and the EPA procedures for informing the public about levels of asbestos and other toxic substances.

Various testing laboratories hired by neighborhood tenants, labor groups, and contractors have found elevated levels of asbestos in apartments and offices, according to news sources (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 14, 2002; Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2002). However, EPA administrator Christie Whitman and many New York City officials have repeatedly assured Lower Manhattan residents that their community is safe. A senior EPA scientist, Cate Jenkins, thinks otherwise. "The asbestos contamination in Lower Manhattan, up to seven blocks away from Ground Zero, is comparable or higher than that found in Libby, Montana, a designated Superfund site," she states in a recent report.

Ms. Jenkins considers the neighborhood cleanup efforts inadequate because the ordinary cleaning methods used in many apartments did not remove asbestos. She also explains that the EPA's "crude air testing methods" were insufficient to detect hazardous levels of asbestos fibers. Recommending that Lower Manhattan be declared a Superfund site, she projects the increase in the cancer risk rate for asbestos-exposed apartment-dwellers at 2 in 100 individuals (perhaps climbing to as high as 1 in 10).

World Trade Center Built Using Asbestos

Built in the early 1970s, the World Trade Center twin towers included asbestos in joint compounds applied to drywall, in some fireproofing materials used in the early days of construction, and in other parts of the buildings. When the twin towers collapsed, clouds of smoke and asbestos-contaminated dust escaped. Tons of debris produced a fine dust that settled over the surrounding community. Apartments and buildings retained asbestos-containing dust in carpeting, ducts, furniture, and draperies.

Because it takes many years for people to develop asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, the full effects of asbestos contamination in the World Trade Center area may not be apparent at this time. Stephen Levin, medical director of New York's Mount Sinai-Irving Center, and other experts have called for continued monitoring and medical assistance for those working or living in the neighborhood. Private studies now underway include a survey of construction workers at the twin towers site, a report on the health of pregnant women in the area, and a project to identify day laborers who were hired to clean office buildings and residences (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 24, 2002).