According to a recent USA TODAY article, when the World Trade Center collapsed, thousands of tons of asbestos spewed into the air of Lower Manhattan. In recent months, the asbestos has aroused more fear and blame than any other pollutant in the controversy over air quality near Ground Zero. Asbestos does not cause the respiratory and eye problems that many New Yorkers are experiencing, but the microscopic fibers do cause lung cancer.
Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency say city officials took responsibility for whether buildings should be reoccupied. So the EPA restricted its testing to air and dust levels outdoors. Despite the lack of monitoring, EPA officials started reassuring the public soon after Sept. 11 that asbestos posed no problem. "EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City," EPA chief Christie Whitman said Sept. 13. Whitman and other EPA officials neglected to say that the agency tested only outdoors, where air pollution and toxic dust are quickly diluted to harmless levels.
Dozens of private firms have run tests, but the results can be controversial. A private scientific firm hired by elected officials found up to 79,000 of the most dangerous types of asbestos fibers per square centimeter in the dust in an apartment near Ground Zero. "These dust numbers are extraordinary," says Richard Lee, president of RJLee Group, a materials lab and consulting firm. "I think you'd have to recommend, based on (these) numbers, that these be professionally cleaned."
Even one-time doses of asbestos, if large enough, can raise the risk of mesothelioma, a rare cancer.