Sampling Method Essay

Asbestos exposure from the World Trade Center Disaster

On September 11, 2001, a massive cloud of smoke was released into the atmosphere following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The cloud of smoke contained hazardous asbestos fibers and other toxic substances, which made the air around Lower Manhattan and other areas of New York City unsuitable for human consumption. Record has it that more than 41,000 people were exposed to a host of toxins including asbestos after the attack; the most affected being the attack survivors, the residents of the buildings around the scene, first responders, and the rescuers including medics, NYPD and the FBI (MARF, 2004).

ACME Environmental Inc is an international consulting firm that is involved in promotion of industrial hygiene, compliance with environmental policies, and addressing issues of public health. The company specializes in hazardous materials and asbestos and has been the number one industrial hygiene-consulting firm in the United States of America for almost two decades.  Among the services offered by the firm include; industrial hygiene consultations, safety consultations, asbestos, lead, and mold investigations, and asbestos contractor oversight. As a world renowned industrial hygiene consultant,  ACME Environmental Inc was involved in conducting air sampling at the scene of September 11 World Trade Center attack  in an attempt to establish the type and concentration of contaminants in the air in Manhattan.

Air sampling and monitoring form an essential function of a health and safety programs especially in locations marked as hazardous. A location identified as prone to airborne contaminants can present a considerable threat to health and safety of residents and visitors (Ertel, 2003). Air sampling and monitoring procedure is carried out to help with identification and quantification of airborne contaminants.  When the level of contamination is established, the parties responsible for site or public health and safety can reliably select protective equipment, delineate areas that need protection, assess the health hazard, and determine specific medical monitoring necessary. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require that regular evaluation of environmental condition be conducted where there are chances the concentration of contaminants might exceed Permissible Exposure Levels (Ertel, 2003).

The first step of location evaluation is determining whether there is a chance of pollution. In a workplace environment, this may involve examination of operations and materials used. However, this paper is concerned with Asbestos exposure after the World Trade Center (WTC) attack in 9/11. It is already established that the agent of pollution is a chemical hazard stressor. Asbestos and other chemical impurities in the atmosphere are causative agents of multitude of respiratory ailments. After the 9/11 attack at the WTC, most survivors and responders suffered from these respiratory infections such as bronchial responsiveness, popular as World Trade Center Cough, and E,N & T problems. While there were a host of chemical substances that were released into the atmosphere and could be responsible for these ailments, asbestos is identified as one of the primary agents of respiratory illnesses (MARF, 2004).

According to Nordgrén, et al. (2002), asbestos was sprayed on the walls of some floors of the WTC buildings as fire retardant and it is estimated that about 400 tons of asbestos fiber were present at the time of its collapse (MARF, 2004). An extensive study of 130 Liberty Street dust also revealed that, indeed, the concentration of asbestos was high in the areas and building around the WTC.  The sampling air for environmental monitoring, the method and procedure must allow for the samples collected to accurately and consistently show the concentration of at the location and time of sampling (OSHA, 2016). 

Since asbestos is a known carcinogen, air sampling is part of the evaluation procedure in order to determine airborne exposure and hazard level to human health. The standard procedure involves drawing known volume of air through filters and having them analyzed in the laboratory. Asbestos exposure risk posed by the WTC attack presents a public health concern and a large geographical area is involved, the most appropriate sampling approach is area sampling as recommended by the United States Environment Protection Agency /Environmental Response Team (USEPA/ERT, 2015).

It is also possible to adopt the source sample approach because the source of the pollutant can be determined. The U.S. EPA/ERT usually uses the TEM method in determining the type and concentration of asbestos in air. This method was used when sampling at the WTC location so as to comply with the regulations requirements (OSHA, 2016).  The sample station in this case had to have three locations, the background, downwind, and the worst case, or the source of pollutant. For upwind samples, 9 samples were collected from different locations in Lower Manhattan area. The filters were placed strategically so that a 300 angle against the prevailing wind was maintained.  

For the downwind samples, 5 filters were placed at 1800 from the source. This was important as it showed how asbestos left the location.  The worst case, or area expected to have high concentration of asbestos was at the WTC attack scene. The walls of the building were expected to release the toxic particles following the collapse of the massive structure. The source of the asbestos was therefore established and one sample was obtained from as close the buildings as possible (USEPA/ERT, 2015).

This procedure required use of equipments such as filter cassette, and sampling pumps. The method of sampling used allowed the volumes of air sampled to be 3800L maximum and 560L minimum and an analytical sensitivity of 0.005cc. Volume of the samples can be calculated by multiplying the pump’s flow rate by the time (USEPA/ERT, 2015);

Volume = Flow rate X Time (minutes)

It is also possible to measure concentration of asbestos in the air after the application of cluster and matrix counting criteria.

Concentration = Volume / Number of Asbestos structure (After cluster matrix counting criteria).

The samples were then analyzed with the aid of AIHA Statistical Spreadsheet. At the end of the procedure, it was noted that the number of samples above Occupational Exposure Level (OEL) were 5 out of 15 samples. The OEL for asbestos is 5 units of concentration. It was also observed that more than half of the sampled specimen fell below the 95percentile exposure level an indication that the most of the samples collected did not contain harmful concentration of asbestos. From the results of the sampling conducted, it can be concluded that more than 10% of the samples contained asbestos although at varying concentration from 0.05% in the upwind locations and about 3.5% at the worst-case locations. While there might be several factors affecting accuracy in this sampling procedure, the report can provide an insight into the exposure risk judgment. Considering that this sampling was conducted years after the attack and there has been cleansing campaigns shortly after, then one can conclude that the risk of asbestos exposure in Manhattan and areas around the WTC does not exist as its concentration in the air is below the OEL.


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