Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
EPA Report Buries a
By Juan Gonzales, NY Daily News, December 31, 2002
Emission of dioxins in and around Ground Zero in the two months following the World Trade
Center collapse were "likely the highest ambient concentrations that have ever been
reported," according to a report released last week by the federal Environmental
Protection Agency. This revelation is buried on page 77 of a 160-page report that the
agency released last week.
The report is titled "Exposure and Human Health Evaluation of Airborne Pollution from
the World Trade Center Disaster" and was authored by the EPA Office of Research and
Development in Washington. It is the most comprehensive study on pollution in and around
Ground Zero. The report, dated October 2002, was not released until Friday, between the
Christmas and New Year's holidays, when it was unlikely to get much media attention. Asked
about the unusual timing, an EPA spokeswoman in Washington said: "This is a draft
report. We really weren't trying to slide it under the door. The sooner the draft is
released the more time there will be for public comment."
EPA's press release and the media coverage over the weekend have focused on the report's
most comforting conclusion - that most neighborhood people and office workers who returned
to their homes and jobs after Sept. 17 were "unlikely to suffer short-term or adverse
health effects" from contaminants in the air.
But the report also says that thousands of people who were caught in the huge dust clouds
on Sept. 11, or who inhaled the air around Ground Zero in the first few days afterward,
were "at risk for immediate acute [and possibly chronic] respiratory and other types
No immediate sampling
Health officials have no way of telling how toxic those initial clouds were, the report
says, because major sampling of the Ground Zero environment did not begin for some toxics
until Sept. 14 and for others until Sept. 23.
As for dioxin, a product of uncontrolled combustion, unprecedented levels were even found
several blocks beyond Ground Zero, in areas that were reopened to the public one week
after the attack. At a monitoring station on Park Row near City Hall Park, for instance,
dioxin levels between Oct. 12 and 29 averaged 5.6 parts per trillion/per cubic meter of
air, or nearly six times the highest dioxin level ever recorded in the U.S., according to
Dioxin levels at the Ground Zero rubble pile itself were much higher. According to the
report, "from the first measurement day of Sept. 23 through Nov. 21, [levels] show
unambiguous elevation, with concentrations ranging from about 10 to 170" parts per
trillion. That, says the report, is "between 100 and 1,500 times higher than
typically found in urban air."
EPA scientists who wrote the report concluded that there was "minimal concern"
for excess cancers because the high levels only lasted about two months and because dioxin
exposure is usually associated with ingesting dioxin-contaminated food rather than
But not all public health experts agree. "Those air levels are outrageous," said
Dr. David Carpenter one of the nation's top dioxin specialists and former dean of the
School of Public Health at State University of New York at Albany. "There's a very
significant health danger here."
Others who have reviewed the report criticize its emphasis on sampling for toxics in
outdoor air. "They're assuming that residents would be walking in the general ambient
air and never disturbing settled dust," said Carrie Loewenherz of the New York
Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor union health group.
According to Lowenherz, a comprehensive study should include data on indoor air tests and
on contaminant levels in settled dust. The EPA report acknowledges that "evaluating
the indoor environment in more depth" is one of several future areas of study.
"EPA's Region 2 office is continuing studies of indoor air," said
Washington-based EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman. "It was more a question of
priorities, and the outdoor air was what people were most concerned about at first."
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