Berkeley Lab Analyzes Air Near Former Trade Towers

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The air around the site of the collapsed Twin Towers last October was the most polluted air ever recorded in the world, according to a study released Monday.

The study, conducted in the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, showed high levels of sulfur, nickel and silicon in the air in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks. The pollutants may have caused illness, researchers said.

Researchers were able to determine the contents of the air samples by shining a bright beam of X-rays at the particles.

The way a particle lights up allows scientists to determine its composition, said a spokesperson from the Berkeley lab.

Thomas Cahill, a professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric science at UC Davis, headed up the team of volunteers that examined aerosol-the air and particles-from the World Trade Center site.

"What we found were particles that were nothing like normal aerosol," Cahill said. "They were anomalous-different from anything we have ever seen."

What made these samples so abnormal is that the levels of certain particles were unusually high, Cahill said.

Minute traces of asbestos and lead were also found. Health experts had initially feared there were hazardous amounts of the two substances at the site that may endanger the rescue workers.

Cahill had been asked by a colleague at the Environmental Measurements Laboratory in New York City to undertake the study because the colleague and others had become ill after the attacks while working in a building one mile from the site.

Cahill's team collected air samples beginning on Sept. 28 and sent samples back to the Berkeley lab and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory through October.

The New York City Department of Health has responded to complaints of illness suspected to be caused by the poor air, saying symptoms are short-term and will not lead to ongoing health problems.

"For healthy people living and working in areas near the World Trade Center site, it is believed that the contaminant levels in the environment do not pose serious, long-term health risks," the department has stated.

The exact effects of inhaling the dust and debris are not known but may cause or aggravate lung and heart disease, according to the American Lung Association.

When asked about Cahill's findings, the health department's spokesperson declined to comment.

People who live and work around Ground Zero have reported that their various symptoms are not

getting better as the department has said.

Following the attacks, 1,300 people said they may sue New York City for alleged negligence. Most claims involve firefighters who said the city did not equip them with adequate protection from the possibly harmful dust and debris.

Reports estimate that hundreds of firefighters took medical leave after working at the site. Many said they may not be able to start work again because they are suffering from chronic cough, asthma or shortness of breath.

Workers at the landfill where the towers' debris was taken have also said they are experiencing health problems, according to reports. They have said they were not given proper safety gear until weeks after they began working there.

Scientists remain unsure whether the air in New York City is clean or if it still contains potentially harmful particulates.


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