Are EPA's Monitoring and Cleanup Efforts at WTC Effective?

In this second article in a three-part series, EPA senior chemist Cate Jenkins examines EPA's monitoring efforts in Lower Manhattan and says they're not effective.

At least one employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that her agency''s monitoring efforts are falling short in the battle to protect residents and workers in the area surrounding the World Trade Center (WTC) site.

According to Cate Jenkins, Ph.D., a senior chemist with EPA''s Hazardous Waste Identification Division, the problems in Lower Manhattan near the WTC site start with EPA''s asbestos testing and monitoring techniques. (She also takes exception to the monitoring efforts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Look for her comments in Part III of our series, written by Washington editor James Nash, which will be posted to OccupationalHazards.com tomorrow.)

EPA, responding to residents'' concerns, conducted the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) transmission electron microscopy clearance test in areas of Lower Manhattan. EPA claims that if the test shows 70 or fewer asbestos structures (fibers) per square millimeter, then the air is safe.

"This statement by EPA is false and a gross misrepresentation of the AHERA regulations which do not in any way claim that a simple air test alone showing 70 or fewer structures per square millimeter can be used directly to determine if air is safe," writes Jenkins in a memo addressed to "Affected Parties and Responsible Officials" and written on EPA letterhead.

Jenkins points out that the highest level of dust inside a building in Manhattan was 79,000 structures per square centimeter - at an apartment building four blocks from Ground Zero where all the windows faced north, away from the WTC. "To the casual observer, this apartment would not be described as heavily contaminated," writes Jenkins. A photo of the apartment shows a dining room table with only a light coating of dust, the dark wood of the table clearly visible.

Secondly, she notes, EPA''s use of a 1 percent asbestos level for cleanup will result in ineffective cleanups. Both EPA and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection are claiming that in Lower Manhattan, only dusts over 1 percent asbestos or more are hazardous. At other times, says Jenkins in her memo, EPA "has clearly stated that dusts and soils containing less than one percent asbestos are hazardous."

Cleanup efforts are being stymied by the fact that most of the methods being used to clean the contaminated buildings are not effective, adds Jenkins. Asbestos does not leave buildings using ordinary cleaning methods, she notes, adding that the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act and the regulatory requirements under AHERA both include rigorous methods to stringently clean every surface. This includes surfaces like inside air ducts, and the removal of carpets, drapes and upholstered furniture which cannot be effectively cleaned, even after every asbestos-containing material, such as ceiling tiles, insulation and floor tiles, are removed.

Also problematic, says Jenkins, is that any EPA recommendation of professional asbestos abatement is not enforceable. EPA has no legal authority to enforce the use of certified asbestos abatement contractors.

"The owners of many buildings have not been hiring certified asbestos abatement professionals, even when they were heavily contaminated," says Jenkins.

Since the high cost of professional abatement is prohibitive to most building owners and residents - as much as $10,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, not including replacement of carpeting, upholstered furniture or draperies - many people are doing the cleanup themselves or are hiring unqualified cleanup workers. In addition to being ineffective, this disorganized approach to cleanup is resulting in recontamination of previously cleaned areas, says Jenkins.

All of this could mean very bad news for residents and workers in the area, she adds.

A cancer risk exceeding 1 in 10,000 is necessary to be considered an endangerment to public health by EPA, writes Jenkins.

"For a laborer spending only three months cleaning out buildings in Lower Manhattan without proper protection, cancers risks of 1 in 5 were projected," writes Jenkins. If allowances are made to include only what is called "PCM-equivalent asbestos" - which means that asbestos fibers are longer than 5 mm, with a width greater than 0.25 mm, and an aspect ration greater than or equal to 3 to 1 - then the risk is 1 in 25, according to Jenkins. (Many researchers believe that asbestos fibers shorter than 5 mm (PCM-equivalent) present a reduced risk of cancer, because they can be eliminated by the body.)

"Risks could be much higher if there were also exposures to fiberglass, fine particulate matter and other toxic substances at the same time," she writes.

Jenkins notes that EPA''s offices are at 290 Broadway, an area considered by the agency to be outside the "zone of contamination," and therefore safe.

"EPA had its own offices cleaned by certified asbestos contractors. At taxpayer expense," Jenkins points out.

(In Part I of the series, Jenkins compares Lower Manhattan to a Superfund site in Montana. See "EPA Official: Lower Manhattan Should Be a Superfund Site." In Part III of our series tomorrow, Washington Editor James Nash interviews Jenkins and discusses the implications of designating parts of Lower Manhattan as a Superfund cleanup site, and finds out why Jenkins isn''t afraid of criticizing her agency''s response.)

by Sandy Smith

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