Report - Data on toxic dust never made it to ground zero

Monday, February 11, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- The massive amount of dust created by the fallen World Trade Center towers was as caustic as liquid drain cleaner, according to research conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.

And although that information was provided to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other government agencies, many workers at ground zero and residents of the surrounding neighborhood said it never made it to them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in its Sunday editions.

According to the newspaper's copyrighted report, officials at the USGS started preparing to study the dust almost immediately after the attacks, even before they were contacted by the EPA and the U.S. Public Health Service.

That dust, the paper said, may have caused health problems for those exposed immediately following the attacks, as well as those who have worked in and returned to the area since.

"What we're finding is incredible irritation to the lungs, throat and nasal passages," said Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. "Some of the tissue is cherry red -- vivid, bright -- and we've never seen anything like it before."

The analysis of the data found the dust contained asbestos, heavy metals and, most importantly, had an unusually high pH level -- a measure of a substance's acidity or alkalinity. A neutral substance, like water, is 7 on a scale of 1 to 14. Most of the samples taken by the USGS had a pH of 9.5-10.5, similar to ammonia, but some measured as high as 12.1.

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