Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Study Finds WTC Pollution Unprecedented
The Associated Press, February 12, 2002

    LOS ANGELES — Unprecedented levels of pollutants were kicked up over New York City following the Sept. 11 attacks, higher even than levels found in Kuwait after its oil wells were torched during the Gulf War, a new study finds. University scientists reported Monday that air samples taken in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center contained elevated levels of sulfur, silicon, titanium, vanadium and nickel. "No one has ever reported a situation like the one we see in the World Trade Center samples," said Thomas Cahill, a researcher at the University of California at Davis.
   University researchers took samples of dozens of substances at a site about a mile from Ground Zero between Oct. 2 and Dec. 25 in what they said was the most thorough analysis of dust and smoke in the wake of the attack. On Monday, they presented results culled from data collected through Oct. 31. "What we found was startling," Cahill said in a telephone interview. "A large mass of very fine particles results in an extraordinary number of particles that penetrate deep in the lungs."
    The very fine particles — smaller than .001 inches in diameter — can contribute to serious health problems, including emphysema. Coarser particles, which are normally settled by rain, persisted throughout October, suggesting that fires in the rubble continued to generate noxious dust and gases for weeks. Since then, many rescue workers and New Yorkers have complained of what's being called "World Trade Center Cough" as well as asthma and diminished lung capacity. The researchers stress their results should be considered in evaluating those health problems.
    Lead, most likely from the thousands of computers in the twin towers, and mercury from the buildings' wiring, also were detected, but in lower concentrations. Very little asbestos, a major health hazard, was found.
    Outdoor pollution may have diminished since Sept. 11, but indoor levels may persist, Cahill said. Researchers recommend indoor spaces be carefully cleaned, avoiding the use of vacuum cleaners, which can stir up dust after it has settled. A week after the attack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman reassured residents the "air is safe to breathe." At a state Senate subcommittee hearing Monday in New York, legislators alleged that Whitman misled the public about the risks of breathing the contaminated air.
   Some of the research by the California research group has been made public. Scientists, however, were not invited to testify before the subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands and Climate Change.
    Some 1,300 people gave notice this month that they may sue the city for a total of $7.18 billion, claiming injuries or damage caused by the alleged negligence of the city during the recovery and cleanup.

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