FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Ground Zero’s Toxic Dust

EPA’s new, supposedly improved sampling plan to test for residual toxic dust from the environmental disaster of 9/11 was released Tuesday evening to a response that ranged from “serious concern” on the part of Senator Hillary Clinton to dismay among community activists.

“[I]t appears at first glance that the EPA’s long-awaited plan has been designed in a way that is fundamentally inadequate to determine the true extent of WTC dust contamination,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler of the Eighth District which includes Ground Zero.

“While we are pleased that EPA agreed to test workplaces as well as residences,” said David Newman, industrial hygienist for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health and a member of the WTC Expert Technical Review Panel which has been meeting with EPA for the last year in an effort to arrive at a scientifically valid plan, “that is a hollow promise if employers can bar access for testing.”

Newman was referring to an aspect of voluntary testing which many community activists feel could make it impossible to get scientifically valid results: If EPA relies only on buildings whose landlords have volunteered to be tested, those are the buildings that are most likely to have been adequately cleaned. In office buildings, employees who are worried about what they may be getting exposed to at work will be at the mercy of the decisions of their employers who may be afraid of the liability issues that could ensue from testing.

Other problems with the plan include its reliance on a WTC ‘signature’ which would supposedly insure that contaminated dust that might be found in people’s homes indeed came from the disaster. Community activists have argued that the contents of the buildings were diverse and that nature did not obligingly mix them together into a homogeneous blend. This belief is borne out by experience: Independent testing performed in the years following 9/11 showed some apartments to have high levels of antimony; others, high levels of asbestos or lead, etc.

EPA’s initial plan as laid out by James Connaughton of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (the organization that changed at least one of EPA’s press releases following 9/11, turning cautionary statements about asbestos into reassurances) was to use asbestos as a surrogate for all the contaminants that might remain in people’s homes. This suggestion was denounced by organizations such as 9/11 Environmental Action and the Sierra Club as well as being severely critiqued by independent experts. Asbestos was then replaced by two ‘signatures’, one for the collapse of the towers, the other for the fires that burned and smoldered for several months. The fire signature idea was abandoned. The collapse signature has metamorphosed several times. A few months ago it was to be slag wool. The current plan adds gypsum and concrete; the latter a contaminant too heavy to have travelled far from Ground Zero. The chameleon nature of the WTC signature underscores the dubiousness of the whole ‘signature’ notion since the essence of a signature is its constancy.

Even if EPA were to arrive at a reasonable plan, there are still problems with the way it would be executed. Residents who took part in EPA’s first cleanup, begun in September 2002, witnessed equipment that broke down, fans for air tests that were never turned on or, when they were turned on, were placed facing the wrong direction. Some community activists, including this writer, have argued for third party monitoring to prevent a repeat travesty.

JENNA ORKIN is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a potential class action lawsuit against the EPA and is director of the World Trade Center Environmental Organization. She can be reached at: Jennakilt@aol.com

More articles by:

Jenna Orkin is the author of Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
Ramzy Baroud
Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis
Ron Jacobs
Dancing with Dr. Benway
Joseph Natoli
Gaming the Climate
Marshall Auerback
The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust
Louisa Willcox
Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin
Kenn Orphan
Stranger Things, Stranger Times
Mike Garrity
Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem
Helen Yaffe
Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures
Brian Cloughley
What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America
David Underhill
The Inequality of Equal Pay
David Macaray
Adventures in Script-Writing
David Rosen
Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression
Nick Pemberton
This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz
Dan Bacher
Chevron’s Oil Spill Endangers Kern County
J.P. Linstroth
A Racist President and Racial Trauma
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Julian Assange
Rose Ramirez – Dedrick Asante-Mohammad
A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools
David Bravo
Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital
Ralph Nader
Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?
Dave Lindorff
The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!
Arnold August
Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela
Tom Clifford
China and the Swine Flu Outbreak
Missy Comley Beattie
Highest Anxiety
Jill Richardson
Weapons of the Weak
Peter Certo
Washington vs. The Squad
Peter Bolton
Trump’s Own Background Reveals the True Motivation Behind Racist Tweets: Pure White Supremacy
Colin Todhunter
From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed
Nozomi Hayase
In Crisis of Democracy, We All Must Become Julian Assange
Wim Laven
The Immoral Silence to the Destructive Xenophobia of “Just Leave”
Cecily Myart-Cruz
McDonald’s: Stop Exploiting Our Schools
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis
CounterPunch News Service
A Homeless Rebellion – Mission Statement/Press Release
Louis Proyect
Parallel Lives: Cheney and Ailes
David Yearsley
Big in the Bungalow of Believers
Ellen Taylor
The Northern Spotted Owls’ Tree-Sit
July 18, 2019
Timothy M. Gill
Bernie Sanders, Anti-Imperialism and Venezuela
W. T. Whitney
Cuba and a New Generation of Leaders Respond to U.S. Anti-People War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail