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Concern Over Mercury: Tests Show High Levels Near Site
By Graham Rayman, Newsday Staff Writer, June 6, 2002


    A series of tests in lower Manhattan by an independent consultant found surprising mercury levels up to seven months after the Sept. 11 collapses. New Jersey-based consultant, Uday Singh, who has testified in court as an expert on trade center dust and has been doing environmental testing for more than a decade, took the readings in apartments and street locations, including City Hall Park, in March and April.
    "When compared with mercury concentrations observed in non-industrial urban environments, the mercury vapor concentrations in lower Manhattan were greater by a factor of 1,000 to 1 million," he said. "It points to a potential for chronic exposure, and it is important that further studies be undertaken immediately."
    Singh theorizes that the force of the collapses and the heat of the fires bonded the toxic substance into the finely ground, abrasive dust from the collapses. The concentrations, he said, were higher in cool, dusty areas than in sunny areas.
    A toxicologist with the Environmental Protection Agency met with Singh on Tuesday after he provided his results to the agency last week. EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said more comprehensive readings need to be taken, and the agency agreed to assist Singh in obtaining a more sensitive testing device.
    Singh's results seem to add another question to the overall environmental puzzle in lower Manhattan. Paul Bartlett, an expert in the dispersion of toxins at Queens College, noted that mercury can be very difficult to track and that distribution over a given area is often uneven. "These are fairly high levels compared to what you'd find in a background situation, which means that there is a source," he said. "Whether there is a connection to WTC dust should be determined."
    Still, Bartlett said, "The main significance is that they [the EPA] need to do a lot more testing of mercury in the area. We have focused on asbestos, now the focus should turn to other substances." Earlier this year, a handful of Port Authority police officers were removed from trade center duty after blood tests showed elevated mercury levels. John McAusland of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association said the cause remains unclear.
    Dr. Jacqueline Moline of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine said she is skeptical the elevated levels in the officer's blood were related to Ground Zero. She said it was more likely that the officers were exposed elsewhere, perhaps from eating shellfish contaminated with methylmercury. She cautioned that findings like Singh's cannot be entirely attributed to Ground Zero exposure. "I think an appropriate response would be to look for other potential sources," Moline said. "The results are definitely a cause for concern," said Sudhir Jain of the Lower Manhattan Tenants Coalition. "The EPA needs to take the data seriously." Singh's report is available online at www.industrial-hygiene.com.

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