WTC asbestos horror from Montana vermiculite mine
Report by Andrew Schneider
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
First Published: 01/13/02
Mining town in Montana endured the horrors of disease from asbestos
LIBBY, Mont. Much of the asbestos-tainted vermiculite that spewed from the collapsing World Trade Center was dug from a mine in the Cabinet Mountains above this picturesque Kootenai River town. And in Libby, as in New York, environmental and health officials failed to disclose just how dangerous the mineral could be.
Miners digging vermiculite ore at the now-closed W. R. Grace Zonolite mine in Libby breathed dust containing asbestos fibers, then carried it home on their clothes to their wives and children. Trucks carrying the dust spread it throughout the town, and trains hauled the potentially lethal cargo to almost 300 towns across the nation.
The company knew it was deadly. But it did not require miners to wear respirators. Federal and state officials knew the dangers, but they looked the other way. Until, that is, the death toll began to climb.
So far, hundreds of miners and their relatives have succumbed to the diseases caused by the asbestos fibers that painfully destroyed their lungs. Hundreds more are clinging to a torturous life, sucking air from portable oxygen bottles. And the federal government says its testing has found signs of the disease in thousands more who have been examined.
EPA and federal health investigators have been virtually living in this tiny town in the western corner of Montana just below the Canadian border since November 1999. Most arrived three days after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the deaths and contamination. They have studied the way asbestos kills - up close and far too personal. Their findings make suspect many of the absolute statements the government is making in playing down the hazards those living in lower Manhattan face from asbestos.
NYC under an asbestos cloud
Monday, January 14, 2002
By ANDREW SCHNEIDER
©2002 ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Federal and state officials have grossly underestimated the number of people in lower Manhattan who are at risk of lethal asbestos-related disease because of the collapse of the World Trade Center, independent experts say.
Evaluations by teams of leading asbestos researchers show the increased risk to people who live, work or study in homes or offices that have not been properly decontaminated could be as high as one additional cancer death for every 10 people exposed.
These figures come as leading government officials continue to insist that there is no long-term health risk to those living and working near ground zero from the dust of hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos-containing products used in the floors, walls, ceilings and steel frame of the twin towers.
"I am glad to reassure New Yorkers ... that their air is safe," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman said a week after the attacks.
When the World Trade Center went down, the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rushed teams to the site. They have gathered thousands of samples of the dust that blanketed lower Manhattan, but they used 20-year-old methods for collecting and counting asbestos fibers to assess the health risks. The agencies and their state counterparts said only low levels of asbestos were found in the air outside. "The public faces little or no danger from asbestos," numerous agency heads echoed.
Civilian scientists and physicians hired by unions, tenant groups, contractors and New York political leaders found just the opposite. Taking hundreds of samples, many inside apartments, offices and condos, these experts used the newest electron microscope technology and fiber-counting protocols. They found far more asbestos fibers than did government investigators. These private experts -- all regularly used by the government as consultants -- found levels in the dwellings that alarmed many assessing the health risk faced by New Yorkers.
"If people continue living and working in places that still have dust in the carpets, furniture, drapes and heating and cooling system, these fibers will continue to be resuspended," Jenkins explained. "The elevated risk could be from around one in a thousand extra cancers to maybe as high as one in 10."
Four other federal health experts -- two toxicologists, an epidemiologist and a physician -- from the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control, have studied the data gathered by Chatfield, Kominsky and a team headed by Hugh Granger of HP Environmental in Virginia. They agreed with Jenkins' interpretation of the data.
Asbestos Remains a Problem Near Trade Center
NEW YORK, NY February 1, 2002 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ombudsman Robert Martin recently opened an investigation into how the agency has handled air quality concerns in the World Trade Center area since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The study will concentrate on the type of testing performed and the EPA procedures for informing the public about levels of asbestos and other toxic substances.
Various testing laboratories hired by neighborhood tenants, labor groups, and contractors have found elevated levels of asbestos in apartments and offices, according to news sources (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 14, 2002; Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2002). However, EPA administrator Christie Whitman and many New York City officials have repeatedly assured Lower Manhattan residents that their community is safe. A senior EPA scientist, Cate Jenkins, thinks otherwise. The asbestos contamination in Lower Manhattan, up to seven blocks away from Ground Zero, is comparable or higher than that found in Libby, Montana, a designated Superfund site, she states in a recent report.
A Red Flag on Air Tests at WTC
By Juan Gonzalez, Daily News, March 21, 2002
In the days after Sept. 11, EPA officials used standards to determine dangerous asbestos contamination that were never intended to measure health risks, according to a new 43-page memo by a dissident Environmental Protection Agency scientist.
Cate Jenkins, a 22-year veteran with the agency's Hazardous Waste Identification Division in Washington, charged that the agency "misrepresented safety levels and standards for asbestos" and failed to accurately detect possible health risks to the public.
Jenkins first criticized her agency's handling of the World Trade Center disaster in late November, arguing that EPA officials effectively "waived" federal asbestos guidelines by endorsing lenient cleanup methods.
In the days after Sept. 11, federal officials repeatedly referred to two "standards," one for asbestos in dust and debris and another for asbestos fibers in air. For dust and debris, the agency standard was 1% asbestos content. For air, it was usually 70 asbestos fibers per square millimeter of a testing filter. The "EPA has performed 62 dust sample analyses for the presence of asbestos and other substances. Most dust samples fall below EPA's definition of asbestos- containing material <1% asbestos>," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced Sept. 18.
Whitman was correct about one thing. Most dust samples were below the 1% standard, but a significant portion were not. Around 35% of those taken in the first few days were above 1%. But as Jenkins explains in her memo, federal regulations never meant the 1% figure to be considered a health standard or even to be applied to measure dust.
"She's absolutely correct, this is not a health-based standard," said Joel Shufrot, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "People exposed to 1% or less can have significant exposure with adverse health impacts," he said.