|There are so many wonderful sites to provide expression and information regarding the horrible attacks on American soil Tuesday, September 11th. This one does not attempt to duplicate any of them. I am creating this to provide information on issues relating to toxins and other hazards related to the smoke and dust of the of plane crashes and building destruction. I have also included a few articles, links, and letters on related topics.|
New York City, NY, September 13, 2001 -- Firefighters continue to battle smoldering fires amidst the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Photo by Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo
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The official groups telling residents and others when it is safe to go back to their homes, workplaces, and schools have many factors to look at. They should be pretty good at knowing if your building is structurally safe. But there are two dangers they are downplaying: the dust and the smoke.
No one knows exactly what is in the smoke. Because no one knows, no one is testing for the various toxins that might be there. The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the New York City Department of Public Health and others, have released test results for only a few of the better known toxins, such as asbestos, radiation, carbon monoxide, and bacterial/infectious materials. They have ignored most of the components of the smoke and toxins bound to dust particles. When they say the air is "safe," they mean that the chemicals they tested for fall within limits they consider acceptable for the general population. But these "acceptable limits" for hazardous levels of substances are meant to apply to healthy adults, not to children, elderly, or infirm persons. When they have found high levels of toxins (such as dioxin) in the smoke, they have released statements saying it doesn't matter because it is "short-term" and should go away. But if you are being exposed now, you are taking toxins into your body. There's no getting around that.
A month after the attacks, the World Trade Center fires are still burning.
We do know, more or less, what is in the dust. Unfortunately, the EPA and others have downplayed that as well. Monitoring stations several blocks away from Ground Zero constantly find levels of asbestos over the "acceptable" limits. When this happens, they say: "This reading exceeds the EPA benchmark. It may not indicate increased risk, however, because these are 'snapshots,' rather than long-term exposure measurements. Weather and recovery activities at the World Trade Center can cause temporary variations in asbestos levels that affect these snapshots." Of course it indicates increased risk! Those "temporary variations" continue 24 hours a day. And these are just measurements of what is in the air. Not what may have accumulated in your home.
An article in the New York Daily News (Debris Can Aggravate Lung, Asthma Woes 9/28/01) interviewed Mount Sinai Medical Center's Dr. Stephen Levin, medical director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The article says: "Those with lung or asthma conditions should stay away and not breathe the dust, to avoid irritation, Levin said. Apartment dwellers returning to dust-filled homes should contact professional cleaners. Homeowners should not clean the dust off themselves using brooms, dust cloths, or household vacuum cleaners. 'Do not disturb it and put it in the air again,' Levin said. And all rescue workers should wear respirator masks because they screen out asbestos fiber. 'The hospital masks are inadequate,' Levin said."
Dr. Levin also says that people not at Ground Zero are "probably at very little risk" from asbestos and other particles in the air. But your particular risk depends on exactly what you are exposed to. If you are living, working, or studying alongside asbestos fibers, especially airborne ones, you are most definitely at risk. If you clean up asbestos yourself, you will stir it up and put it back into the air. Not only will you get a large dose yourself doing this, but the particles remain airborne for days or weeks, affecting anyone who enters the building.
I don't know why the Red Cross has teamed up with the EPA, the NYC Department of Health, OSHA, and others to encourage residents to do their own asbestos abatement. All I can do is speculate. Perhaps they are trying to quell panic, or reduce future liability for asbestos companies and others. Or maybe they think the problem is too massive so they want residents to do more for themselves. What I do not think is that there are any high-ranking officials who seriously believe residents with WTC dust in their homes are not in any danger if they clean it up themselves. Small amounts of "questionable" dust may not be too bad with the proper precautions, but no one except a professional should take on large jobs or thick deposits of dust.
Asbestos is not toxic persay...it does not act in your body like a chemical. The problem is when it enters your lungs. The size and shape of the fibers is just right to lodge in lung tissue and cause scarring. This can lead to a whole host of asbestos-related diseases, including cancer. The more fibers that get into your lungs, the more damage. You can also have damage from asbestos in your eyes, stomach, and elsewhere.
It is true that most people with asbestos disease are workers with long-term exposures. But it is not uncommon for spouses and other family members of asbestos workers to get cancer from the asbestos fibers the workers brought home. People working in an environment where there was poorly managed construction using asbestos containing materials have also become sick. And workers with short-term exposures (a few weeks) have become ill as well.
The amount of the exposure does matter. After the World Trade Center towers collapsed, many survivors were literally covered in dust. This is a very large exposure, much greater than the average asbestos worker got, even before the emphasis on protective equipment. If there is dust in your home, that is a large exposure as well.
If you are exposed to WTC dust for a 24 hour day, that is the equivalent of 3 days for a 9-5 worker. A week equals 21 worker shifts.
And who says exposure to the WTC dust is going to be short term? Search and cleaning of the WTC site is expected to continue for 10-14 months. (see Reuters: Removal of Trade Center rubble a monumental task 10/9/01). Debris is going via truck and barge to the Fresh Kills landfill. Once there it will be sorted until approximately June 2002. Every time a crane lifts WTC debris, it puts asbestos and other dust back into the air.
Short-term exposure is an illusive idea when you have a tragedy of this magnitude. MSNBC (Is Ground Zero Safe? New study suggests more asbestos at disaster site than previously revealed 10/5/01), says: "According to the EPA, air samples taken from the southwest perimeter of ground zero continue to show asbestos in the air. This may be owing to a secondary exposure problem: landlords sweeping off their windowsills and roofs. 'We are trying to figure out where this is coming from,' says the spokeswoman."
MSNBC interviewed Dr. Phil Landrigan, chair of the Department of Community and Preventative Medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City (Asbestos Alert: How much of the chemical does the World Trade Center wreckage contain? 9/14/01). "The risk is higher for smokers who inhale asbestos; they run about 55 times the normal risk of developing cancer, he says."
The Village Voice (The Dust May Never Settle 10/26/01) says: "Asbestos risks jump for those in the WTC 'bucket brigade' who take smoke breaks to relieve their stress. [Columbia University journalism professor Steven S. Ross] pointed out that 'there are plenty of documented cases of shipyard workers getting mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest lining, unique to asbestos) after only a few weeks' exposure' to asbestos. 'Smoking,' he said, 'raises the risk drastically. Almost 100 percent of all asbestos workers in the '60s and '70s who smoked have died of mesothelioma.'"
From the New York Times, It's Going to Take More Than Elbow Grease (9/20/01): "Cleaning up is 'the natural reaction,' said Damon Gersh, president of Maxons Restorations, alluding to many peoples' desire to bring order into their lives. But in extreme cases, he says, it is 'on our list of not-to-dos,' explaining that it is best to first consult an insurance broker. Household vacuum cleaners, sponges and mops tend to rearrange the dust without getting rid of it, he said, and in two days it settles back down, like a stubborn houseguest. Mr. Gersh, whose company is helping apartment owners, churches and businesses clean up after the disaster, has an unscientific litmus test for those who live south of Canal Street: Run your finger across the coffee table; if it leaves a visible swath and you pick up a white dust mixed with black soot, 'it's not a regular cleanup' and requires the help of professionals, he said."
From the New York Times, Cleanup Specialists (9/20/01): "A number of companies clean textiles. Clean Bright Process (212-283-6400 or 516-333-7073) charges a minimum of $125 a visit, $2.50 a square foot to clean Oriental carpets and $25 a linear foot for upholstered furniture; there is a surcharge of up to 50 percent for construction-related dust. The Textile Conservation Workshop (914-763-5805) hand washes delicate and antique fabrics; figure that it will cost about $400 to clean a queen-size quilt. Services that specialize in disaster cleanups use refrigerator-size air cleaners and industrial rubber sponges that trap soot. Maxons Restorations (212-447 6767) estimates that it could finish a 3,000-square-foot loft in three days, with a team of six to 10 employees in masks and goggles; work would include cleaning electronics, artwork, area rugs, curtains and clothes off site, which would take several weeks. Total cost: $5,000 to $10,000. The Robert M. Strongwater Company (718-357-9191) helps estimate damages and carry out repairs. There is a fee for the estimate."
Homeowners can get grants from FEMA "for emergency cleaning or repairs to make your residence habitable. Register for assistance by calling FEMA at 1-800-462-9029 (TTY: 1-800-462-7585). An inspector will visit your home to determine what the maximum reimbursement to clean your home will be. If you lived in an apartment that was made unlivable as a result of the attack, you may be eligible for two months temporary housing assistance." (From Disaster Officials Offer Cleanup Tips For Affected WTC Victims 10/9/01).
The New York Daily News (Debris Can Aggravate Lung, Asthma Woes 9/28/01) says fiberglass can "irritate skin and the tissue in eyes, nose, throat and lungs." Dr. Barry Commoner, senior scientist at Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Sciences, claims "there are no official standards" for fiberglass.
Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project says "The most distressing finding is that three of the four samples contain fiberglass at levels between 10 and 15%. These tiny, needle-like particles are probably causing much of the reported irritation and pain in the eyes and respiratory system. People who are allergic to formaldehyde are likely to have even more symptoms because these fibers are usually coated with a thin layer of resin containing formaldehyde. Long term health damage is also associated with fiberglass. The National Toxicology Program lists respirable glass fibers as 'reasonably anticipated' to cause cancer. The International Agency for Research in Cancer lists certain of the glass fibers as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans.'" (From: Downwind from Disaster: WTC environmental health effects)
See Toxin Information for links to articles about fiberglass.
We know that fine air particles can worsen asthma, heart disease, and other medical conditions. Any particle will do, if it is the right size and shape. See Medical Information and Toxin Information for links to articles about particulate air pollution risks.
We don't know exactly what is in the smoke, but the list of things we do know about is horrifying. People with asthma, chemical sensitivities, immune system disorders, or those who are very young, very old, or ill, should stay far far away from the WTC smoke. The World Trade Center is still smoldering and people for miles around could smell burning plastics, rubber, and other things for weeks after the attacks. If you can smell a toxin, you know it has entered your body. And if you can't smell it, you may still be getting exposed.
We will be adding sections on the toxins in the smoke in the next few days.
Keep your windows closed and air conditioners on recirculate. This is good advice for airborne asbestos and particulate pollution as well. Air filters can be useful as well. You want carbon and HEPA filters. One of the problems with keeping your home shut up though is that indoor pollution is usually worse than outdoor pollution. For people in the New York City area, the outdoor air is almost certainly worse right now, but you want to be careful of what is in your indoor environment as well. This is not the time to paint, spray pesticides, install new carpet, or put other chemicals into your living space. If you are doing this as part of asbestos abatement cleanup, you won't be living there anyway, but it would be a kindness to your neighbors to lower their toxic load in these difficult times.
If you need to wear a mask every time you go outdoors so you don't get symptoms, the air is not safe for you. If you can leave the area for a while, do so. If you are in an area where you can smell the smoke, or you know it is there, and you want to wear a mask for preventative purposes, be sure you choose the right one. Cloth masks (whether impromptu from your clothing or surgical) are almost completely useless. So are paper masks. Neither filters out asbestos fibers, particulate pollution, or volatile chemicals. Make sure you buy a mask rated for the things you want to filter out.
Many people with chemical sensitivities like the 3M carbon-lined mask (3M8247), which is one of the best of the soft face masks. I find it insufficient for more than taking off the edge from volatile chemical exposures and, with my smaller bone structure, I can't get it to fit right. But others appreciate its low cost, small size (easy to carry around with you--put it in a zipper plastic bag or tin foil to keep dust out), comfort, and low profile. Use for: "Solids such as those from processing minerals, coal, iron ore, cotton, flour, and certain other substances. Liquid or oil based particles from sprays that do not also emit harmful vapors. Nuisance level organic vapor relief. (Nuisance level organic vapor refers to concentrations not exceeding OSHA PEL, or applicable government occupational exposure limits, whichever is lower)." Do not use for: "Paint spray, gases, asbestos or sandblasting." (Information from the product instructions)
For serious filtration, you want a canister respirator. These are more expensive, uncomfortable, harder to carry with you, and ugly. As a person with chemical sensitivities, I carry one of these around with me everywhere I go. There are many brands and styles. The three most important things about choosing a mask are: 1) getting one that fits you well; 2) getting the right filters; 3) getting one that you will actually wear. If you're too embarrassed to wear a canister mask, don't waste your money. A filter mask isn't as good but it's better than a canister mask you keep in your purse or in your hand. If you are doing any kind of work at Ground Zero, or in the presence of large amounts of toxins, get the right canister mask and wear it every second that you are exposed. Don't worry about what others around you are doing; protect yourself and perhaps others will follow your lead.
The canister mask I like best comes from North Safety. I've found it to work 100% in reducing toxins that come through to my lungs (or at least ones I can notice). A mask will only protect your nose and mouth. You can still get toxic exposures through your eyes and skin, and some chemicals can stick to your hair, clothes, or skin and expose you when you remove the mask. The half mask facepiece I use is North Safety 7700 Series. It will last for years with proper care. There are three sizes. Most women and a good number of men take a small. Very large-boned women and medium-large to large-boned men take a medium. I've never met anyone who took a large. Note that the straps for all sizes are identical: choose a size based on your face, not your head. Very small-boned women and children are out of luck. Here is a picture of me wearing this mask.
A mask is only as good as its filters. I use North Safety part number 7583P100. It is rated for "Organic vapor, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine dioxide, and any particulates. Cartridge/filter combination." I do not want to say it protects against asbestos without double checking, though I believe this is the case.
As compared to when you began wearing the mask, if you can now smell things you couldn't before, or if you are starting to have to breathe harder, this means it is time to replace the mask or change the filter. Workers at Ground Zero must change their filters at least once per shift, often more. With more moderate use, filters can last for months. When in doubt, change it. It's not worth the risk.
I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert in protective equipment. Anything I say about brands, models, toxin filtration, etc is speculative and not meant as medical advice. If you are told to do more than what I suggest, follow that advice. The mask that is best for me to walk by perfume counters, smokers, and use bathrooms with air fresheners may not be the correct mask for New York City's smoke and dust. Without being there, I can't offer an opinion on what I would use; I can only guess. Your best bet is to make a list of the toxins you want to filter (and their approximate amounts) and call or write one of the respirator manufacturers to find out which models do what you want. You can find contact information for respirator manufacturers here and here.
Be a bit overcautious now. If you are near the crash sites, wear protective equipment, even if others around you are not. If you are a rescue worker, insist on complete protection (suits, eyes, nose/mouth, etc) and use it! Respirators are useless if they are hanging around your neck. Take precautions with your indoor air quality. If you were exposed to the dust from the World Trade Center buildings coming down, assume it is loaded with asbestos. Take appropriate cleanup measures in your home, car, workplace, and anywhere else you may have tracked the dust. Don't take chances! Prepare for the worst case scenario.
1. Obtain and Use Proper Safety Equipment.
Workers at the Pentagon site had protective suits, canister masks, and eye protection from the beginning. In nearly all of the photos and news coverage I have seen at the site, they use their equipment correctly and whenever they are being exposed to smoke or dust. New York rescue workers, unfortunately, are not as lucky. They do not have access to enough equipment and no one is giving orders that they must use it. What this means is the New York rescue workers and others at ground zero are at risk.
We don't know exactly what toxic materials are at each site, but the World
Trade Center site is objectively worse. There is far more dust and smoke present
and it is harder to find clean air to take a break. This makes it even more
important to have the proper equipment.
2. Reduce Contamination
Asbestos dust lasts forever and it is easy to track it into your car, home, or elsewhere. Protect your family by keeping dust away.
If you are a rescue worker, wear a protective suit whenever you are working. The suit should have long sleeves and pants and be set up so that there is no way dust can enter at your wrists (wear gloves) or ankles. Protect your hair and face as much as possible. Do not wear the dirty suit off site.
If such a suit is not available to you, put aside a set of old clothes to be your work clothes. They should have long sleeves. If you can, keep them on site. If that is not possible, keep them in a sealed plastic bag in your car or by your front door, away from your sleeping area. Change clothes before getting into your car or on public transportation. Use a separate clean plastic bag to hold your clothes for home and your commute. When the work finishes, put the clothes in a bag and throw them away. You will probably need to go through several sets of clothes so make use of donations and thrift shops.
In addition to asbestos, clothing can pick up toxic smoke, VOC's, and other chemicals. It is especially important not to sleep in the clothes you used to work in or to keep them near your sleeping and home living space.
Also change your shoes! Shoes will track dust all over your home.
If you are a New York resident who is being exposed to dust or smoke, set aside sets of indoors and outdoors clothes. Change immediately upon coming home or right before you go out. Keep outdoors clothes in plastic bags and wash them separately. Remove your shoes at your front door.
If you have clothes that have been coated with WTC dust, throw them away. They are not worth saving.
Do not vacuum WTC dust with a regular vacuum; it will only stir it up and spread it further throughout your air space. Follow expert instructions for decontaminating a home. Assume the dust contains asbestos and proceed accordingly.
3. Cleanse your body
Whenever you have been exposed to toxins the very first thing to do when you get home is to take a shower. No matter how drop dead tired you are, this step is essential. Remove your clothes before you sit down on anything. For minor smoke exposures, put them in the laundry (not in your bedroom). For larger exposures, deal with them as discussed above.
Go immediately to the shower. Wash your body, face, and hair. Especially your hair. Scrub everything well.
A good way to remove odors and grime is with baking soda. You can even wash your hair with it (make a paste with baking soda and water). Baking soda is slightly abrasive, so it makes a good mild scrub. Rinse well. Vinegar (plain white is fine) also helps (it will improve the condition of your skin and hair too). Use vinegar last if you choose to use it. Then rinse well with plain water.
Wash your hands well before you eat when in the field. Wash your face and eyes as often as needed (if you need to do this a lot, try to get a full face mask or goggles without air access on the sides).
4. Reduce your toxic load
Toxic exposure is cumulative. Every bit you can do to lessen the load on your body lowers your risk of long-term effects.
When your lungs are trying to stay clear and your liver and detox systems are working overtime to process what you're exposing your body to, it makes sense to stay away from additional toxins and to strengthen your body's systems.
As much as possible, try to avoid:
There are many ways to help your body clear the toxins. Here are a few:
5. Asbestos Safety Information from the White Lung Association
6. World Trade Center Catastrophe Worker Health Fact Sheet
Who is 911 ASH?
Credits & Links to this Site
911 ASH (Air Safety Hazards) Press Releases
Emails on Immune discussing these issues
Safety Equipment Information
Information for Rescue Workers
Cleanup: Information for Residents
Medical Information Related to Sept 11th
General Air Quality/Toxin Information
The Scope of the Smoke & Dust
Safety & Toxins Correspondence
Articles on 9/11 Toxins
World Trade Center Catastrophe Worker Health Fact Sheet
WTC: Danger of Asbestos Fallout by Erik Moeller
Downwind from Disaster: WTC environmental health effects by New York Environmental Law & Justice Project
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