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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration today announced that the majority of air and dust samples monitored at the crash site and in Lower Manhattan do not indicate levels of concern for asbestos. The new samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern. New OSHA data also indicates that indoor air quality in downtown buildings will meet standards.
EPA has found variable asbestos levels in bulk debris and dust on the ground, but EPA continues to believe that there is no significant health risk to the general public in the coming days. Appropriate steps are being taken to clean up this dust and debris.
"Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York's financial district," said John L. Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "Keeping the streets clean and being careful not to track dust into buildings will help protect workers from remaining debris."
OSHA staff walked through New York's financial district on September 13th, wearing personal air monitors and collected data on potential asbestos exposure levels. All but two samples contained no asbestos. Two samples contained very low levels of an unknown fiber, which is still being analyzed.
Air Samples taken on Sept. 13th inside buildings in New York's financial district were negative for asbestos. Debris samples collected outside buildings on cars and other surfaces contained small percentages of asbestors, ranging from 2.1 to 3.3 slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material.
"EPA will be deploying 16 vacuum trucks this weekend in an effort to remove as much of the dust and debris as possible from the site where the samples were obtained," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "In addition we will be moving six continuous air monitoring stations into the area. We will put five near ground zero and one on Canal Street. The good news continues to be that the air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern."
The continuous monitoring stations will augment the ambient air quality monitoring located in Brooklyn. EPA and OSHA will remain on site and continue to monitor for levels of asbestos, PCBs, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the area throughout the long weeks of cleanup ahead. In addition, EPA will move in a bus that has the equipment to do instant analysis of volatile organic compound samples from air at the site. It is called a Total Atmospheric Gas Analyzer and is similar to a unit used during the Gulf War to sample emissions from the oil fires in Kuwait.
The Agency is recommending that businesses in the area planning to reopen next week take precautions including cleaning air conditioning filters and using vacuums with appropriate filters to collect dust. Vacuuming will reduce the chance of re-entering workers tracking dust into the buildings. This work is already underway by city agencies.
The U.S. Coast Guard will be assisting EPA in monitoring impacts, if any, of today's rainstorms on the water quality. However, most of the rainflow is expected to be handled by the City's waste water treatment facility, since there will be only limited sewage in the combined sewer system. EPA has a vessel on site in New York to handle any necessary testing.
Additional technical support has been offered to EPA in New York from the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General's Office of Environmental and Occupational Health. That support would involve five engineers and/or environmental technicians and equipment if needed.
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