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EPA Shifts Focus to Indoor Air

Release Date: 05/31/2002
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(02052) New York, New York – With the recovery efforts at Ground Zero and the Staten Island landfill drawing to an end this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped its sampling of pollutants associated with the World Trade Center fires. The Agency will continue to monitor for asbestos related to the debris handling in lower Manhattan and at the Fresh Kills landfill for a week after the recovery work officially ends. The outdoor sampling has generally shown no presence or very low levels of pollutants in recent months. The fires have been out for months, recovery activities are almost completed, the barge operation is shut down and our sampling generally shows that air quality in lower Manhattan is back to normal levels prior to September 11. EPA is now focused on providing local residents the assurance that their homes have been cleaned properly.

EPA is now focused on its comprehensive plan to ensure that apartments impacted by the collapse of the World Trade Center have been properly cleaned. EPA and the city will conduct specialized monitoring during the upcoming indoor and outdoor cleanup efforts. Outdoor sampling of fine particles and other pollutants that are needed to evaluate compliance with all federal health-related air quality standards will continue as part of New York’s federally-required permanent air monitoring network.

Since September, the Agency has monitored daily for substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dioxin, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals that would have been associated with the fires that had burned for months after the World Trade Center collapse. These readings were first taken in the smoke plumes and later in the recovery pits and at a number of stations ringing the Ground Zero site. Early on, EPA found elevated levels of some substances in the smoke itself, but these levels tailed off dramatically even a few feet from the source of the smoke. Since January, the pollutants have been at either extremely low levels – well below EPA’s benchmarks – or at levels not detectable. In addition, the Agency stopped monitoring for metals at three sites on Staten Island. This metals monitoring was designed to assess potential impacts from steel cutting operations at the landfill. Steel is no longer cut at the landfill, so the monitoring was no longer needed. The Agency also shut down its monitors on Pier 25 after the barge loading operation ended several weeks ago.

After workers stop work, the city plans to inspect the area sector-by-sector before officially declaring the site closed. The Agency estimates, based on recent announcements from the city, that this date will be June 21. Analysis of the majority of samples from monitoring sites at or around Ground Zero has not shown detectable levels of asbestos or has found levels well below the standard that EPA is applying – one that is normally used to determine whether children may re-enter a school building after asbestos has been removed or abated. No lower Manhattan samples have been above this level since April 2, when a sample taken from the worker wash tent at which workers remove dust from their boots and clothing slightly exceeded the standard. Since September 11, only 21 out of nearly 9500 samples taken have exceeded the school-based standard.

In Staten Island, results from some monitors located right at the landfill where debris has been sifted through have sporadically exceeded EPA’s school-based standard for asbestos and have never exceeded the Agency’s level of concern for metals. All trucks coming and going from the landfill have been thoroughly washed to ensure that dust does not move into areas surrounding the landfill. This monitoring will also end one week after the last debris is processed.

EPA and the city will conduct monitoring as part of the cleanup efforts recently announced. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will specifically monitor to ensure that asbestos is not released into the air when it cleans rooftops and building facades. EPA will conduct monitoring in individual homes that are being cleaned and will monitor during its pilot study of cleaning methods in one still-unoccupied building. DEP will also conduct extensive monitoring when it cleans the remaining still-unoccupied buildings near Ground Zero. EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will work together on assuring air quality concerns are addressed during re-construction efforts.