Current images from New York suggest extremely heavy and wide-spread fallout from the destroyed buildings. The question of whether asbestos was used in the building, and how much, therefore seems to be of high significance. The WTC was built from 1966-1971. The fact that asbestos is carcinogenic received wide-spread publicity in the seventies, and asbestos was still used in schools well into the seventies (see American Spectator article below). So it seemed reasonable to me to assume that asbestos was still used, and here's what I found through a Google search (I checked the first 6 pages, if anyone wants to continue):
[on 1993 WTC bombing:]
"Wood, who helped with the investigation, says that he was
not allowed onto the blast site because loose debris and
asbestos made it hazardous."
"WR Grace Asbestos containing insulation was
used at the World Trade Center (WTC).
James Cintani stated that Grace Vermiculite did not contain asbestos.
Unfortunately this was not true this material was 2-5 percent asbestos.
100,000 80 pound bags of this vermiculite was used in the WTC. In
addition 9,150 pounds of MonoKote 3 was used at the WTC. Monokote 3 was
about 20 percent asbestos. Therefore in total about 201,183 pounds of
pure asbestos fiber from Grace was used in the WTC."
Unfortunately, Grace was not the only supplier:
British Asbestos Newsletter
Issue 23 : Spring 1996
"In December T&N, formerly the largest asbestos company in Britain,
reached a favorable settlement with the Port Authority (PA) of New York
and New Jersey, the body responsible for JFK, La Guardia and Newark
airports and the World Trade Center. The PA had brought a $600m lawsuit
against 37 defendants, including T&N, for asbestos contamination of
Contract WTC-115.310 - The World Trade Center Removal and
Disposal of Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles and Other Incidental
Asbestos-Containing Building Materials Via Work Order Estimate Range:
$1,000,000 annually Bids due Tuesday, October 17, 2000 [emphasis mine].
May 5 - 11, 2001
"Chalk up one victory for insurers in the escalating asbestos-claims
mOlOe: the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has lost a
10-year-old court battle to get its insurers to pay more than $600
million for removing asbestos from its properties, including the World
Trade Center and New York's airports. The judge ruled that asbestos
abatement costs by themselves do not constitute 'physical loss or
damage' under the Port Authority's all-risk policies. The agency is
considering an appeal." [emphasis mine]
[interesting overview on asbestos problem]
Copyright 1989 by The American Spectator
"Coming soon to a school or office near you: a life-saving innovation
that could kill you, designed to correct a problem that doesn't exist,
by removing materials that aren't dangerous until somebody tries to
remove them. And guess who's going to pay for it."
"For example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expecting
to pay about $1 billion for the abatement of just the World Trade Center
and LaGuardia Airport. (New York City law requires abatement if
renovation work is being done, as it is at these buildings.) ..."
Based on this information, it can be said with reasonable certainty that several tons of asbestos were in the World Trade Center. With the dust of the WTC now clouding the city, contamination is very likely, but measurings of the dust should be taken before jumping to any conclusions. After my search, some news media started to mention the asbestos issue, mostly this ABCNews article which states that
The Trade Center reportedly decided more than 10 years ago to treat the health risk
by encapsulating the asbestos to prevent the particles from being inhaled.
To my knowledge, "encapsulating" means that the asbestos fibers are simply painted over, or that asbestos-covered shafts are sealed, to avoid direct human contact and air contamination. With both WTC towers destroyed, this "encapsulation" is of no relevance. What matters is the degree of asbestos-contamination which is now in New York City.
As school is supposed to begin again tomorrow, this problem should be addressed as soon as possible. Residents of NYC should stay in their homes, keep their windows closed and shut down the air conditioning (the filters won't work on the fiber).
Because of the lawsuits mentioned in the above articles, information on asbestos use in the WTC will also be hard to find (consider the potential damages involved as a good motivation for a cover-up). It is also likely that NY authorities will not publish asbestos air measurings in order to avoid wide-spread panic and possibly accountability (since Port Authorities have delayed a clean-up for years). The health problems this fallout will bring will remain unknown for a long time.
Appendix: Damage Estimations
We can make some very shaky assumptions about the amount of asbestos exposure New Yorkers will suffer, and the consequences it will have. WB Grace et al. provided at least about 200,000 pounds of asbestos (~100 tons) for use in the WTC. Most of it can be assumed to be still in the rubble pile -- let's say 1% (1 ton or 1E6 grams) is uniformly spread over the area of New York City of 800 square kilometres (8E8 m^2). (We can definitely say that this is not the case but that the concentration is much higher in certain areas.) Let's say it is mixed in the air up to a height of ca. 10 m, so you get 8E9 m^3 and a concentration of 100 ug/m^3 (1 ug = 1E-6 g, 1 ng = 1E-9 g).
In http://www.fumento.com/asbest.html one finds
"3,5 ng/m^3 = 0,0001 fibers per cubic centimenter" (=fibers/cc) which results in 1 fiber/cc = 30 ug/m^3.
The above calculation therefore results in about 3 fibers/cc.
The official US Air Force regulations recommend:
- A time-weighted-average permissible exposure limit (PEL)
of 0.1 fibers/cubic centimeter (f/cc) for all asbestos work
in all industries;
- An asbestos excursion limit above which no employee should be
exposed equivalent to an airborne concentration of asbestos in
excess of 1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter of air (1 f/cc) as averaged
over a sampling period of thirty (30) minutes
(Excursion limit = limit for the length of an excursion = ~30 minutes.) Now we are 30 times above industry level and 3 times above worst case for 30 minutes.
It could be better if (aside from basic assumptions):
It could be worse if:
- fibers are clumped together with other dust particles, so that particle
size is much larger which supports removal of fibers from lungs in a natural way (coughing them up again etc.).
To sum it up I think one should be very careful with the dust, especially regarding children and people below 30. 30 years is the typical incubation time.
- asbestos fibers are incorporated (eaten, drunk) -- they could
separate from the dust and spread freely
- dust is much higher concentrated in lower Manhattan (and nearby
Brooklyn/Queens area - was it the direction of the downwind?) than assumed by
the numbers above.
- most is on ground, not in the air. But if dust on the ground is whirled up
the concentration around a person or house could be much higher
than the 3 fibers/cc assumed above.
- dust settles on windows, staircases, clothings and cars. Gets
destributed to the living room as permanent exposure.
- what about the amount of asbestos used in the WTC not from WB Grace? The total amount of asbestos in the WTC could be much higher.