Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Ground Zero fumes 'brutal': air quality expert
By CBC News, September 11, 2003

NEW YORK - Debris from the World Trade Center contained dangerous forms of pollutants able to penetrate deep into the lungs of workers at the site, scientists say.

Researchers developed a model to estimate the type of pollutants at Ground Zero. Earlier studies were based on particles collected about 1.6 kilometres, about a mile, from the site.

"The debris pile acted like a chemical factory," said Thomas Cahill, a professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric science at the University of California Davis in a release.

"It cooked together the components of the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics for at least six weeks."

Cahill, the study's lead author, summarized the study at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in New York City on Wednesday. He calls the conditions "brutal" for people working at Ground Zero without respirators. Those working or living in neighbouring buildings would have been slightly better off.

"I have sampled approximately 7,000 samples of very fine aerosols from Kuwait and China and Africa and so on," said Cahill. "October 3rd was the worst."

The new, more detailed study builds on the group's earlier analysis of more than 8,000 air samples collected Oct. 2 to 30, 2001, from a mile north-northeast of Ground Zero.

The team, called the UC DELTA group, found very high levels of tiny airborne particles the U.S Environmental Protection Agency says can raise a person's risk of lung damage and heart attacks.

Wednesday's study added samples collected through May 2002, as well as a timeline explaining the results.

The researchers identified four classes of particles the EPA says are likely to damage human health:
Fine and very fine transition metals, which interfere with lung chemistry
Acids, such as sulphuric acid, which attack cilia and lung cells directly
Very fine, insoluble particles of glass, which travel through the lungs to the bloodstream and heart
High-temperature organic matter, many components of which are known to be carcinogens
The analysis has been accepted for publication in the journal, Aerosol Science and Technology.

The good news is the damage could have been worse. Since the ground was hot, the plume rose high into the atmosphere instead of lingering in the streets of Manhattan, said Prof. Paul Lioy of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute in New Jersey.

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