Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Fire Heroes' Trucks Still Tainted by WTC Dust
NY Post, August 26, 2002

    Firefighters are rushing to emergencies around the city in trucks still carrying remnants of toxic World Trade Center dust and debris nearly a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, The Post has learned. Of the 122 firetrucks involved in rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, 93 have yet to be totally cleared of asbestos, Fiberglas, lead and other contaminants, FDNY officials have confirmed and lab reports show. But those trucks went back into use months ago.
    Working firefighters continue to find debris fragments and spoonfuls of dust behind seat cushions, in hose compartments and in air-conditioning units of their rigs - some of it potentially toxic. Debris scooped from three professionally cleaned rigs was tested by a watchdog group, the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, and found to have unsafe levels of asbestos and Fiberglas, reports obtained by The Post show.
    In the six months following Sept. 11, 332 firefighters required more than four weeks of leave for "significant" respiratory problems, according to FDNY records. About 60 percent of those remain on light duty or sick leave, or have retired. Some firefighters point out that health concerns prompted the city to condemn 890 privately owned cars and 91 FDNY vehicles that were parked near the trade center and deemed impossible to safely clean of all dust and contaminants. The firefighters say they had expected similar strict standards to be applied to the cleaning of those dusted firetrucks put back into city service.
    "It seemed every time they'd come back to the firehouses, the members were not satisfied with what was done," said Uniformed Firefighters Association Sergeant-at-Arms Phil McArdle. "If we can't adequately protect our members, we can't adequately protect the public."
    FDNY Chief William Van Ward said 214 FDNY vehicles have been tested for airborne asbestos, using sensors that detect airborne matter and taking swipe samples off flat surfaces. Nearly all the trucks tested were deemed safe, he said, because the levels of any airborne asbestos in them did not reach the federal safety cut-off of 70 fibers per square centimeter. "Anyone who thinks the Fire Department has been neglectful is just wrong," Van Ward said.
    Van Ward confirmed it was the department's intention "to decontaminate all the trucks that were down there [at the trade center]." "Every truck in the fleet will be at least tested," he said. Decontamination of the remaining trucks is set to begin Sept. 3 and is expected to take the Brooklyn-based cleaning firm Northern Valley Contracting five months to complete at a cost of at least $3.5 million.


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