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Air Levels of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Following the World Trade Center Disaster

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Abstract:The catastrophic collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001, created an immense dust cloud followed by fires that emitted soot into the air of New York City (NYC) well into December. The subsequent cleanup used diesel equipment that further polluted the air until the following June. The particulate air pollutants contained mutagenic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). By using an assay developed for archived samples of fine particles, we measured nine PAHs in 243 samples collected at or near Ground Zero from September 23, 2001, to March 27, 2002. Based on temporal trends of individual PAH levels, we differentiated between fire and diesel sources and predicted PAH levels between 3 and 200 d after the disaster. Predicted PAH air concentrations on September 14, 2001, ranged from 1.3 to 15 ng/m3; these values are among the highest reported from outdoor sources. We infer that these high initial air concentrations resulted from fires that rapidly diminished over 100 d. Diesel sources predominated for the next 100 d, during which time PAH levels declined slowly to background values. Because elevated PAH levels were transient, any elevation in cancer risk from PAH exposure should be very small among nonoccupationally exposed residents of NYC. However, the high initial levels of PAHs may be associated with reproductive effects observed in the offspring of women who were (or became) pregnant shortly after September 11, 2001. Because no PAH-specific air sampling was conducted, this work provides the only systematic measurements, to our knowledge, of ambient PAHs after the WTC disaster.

This work is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of North Carolina and was supported by National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Grants P42ES05948 and P30ES10126. The research has been subjected to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review and approved for publication.
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Citation:Pleil, J. D., A. F. Vette, B. A. Johnson, and S. M. Rappaport. Air Levels of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Following the World Trade Center Disaster. PNAS (PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES) 101(32):11685-11688, (2004).
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Contact: Liz Hope - (919) 541-2785 or hope.elizabeth@epa.gov
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Division: Human Exposure & Atmospheric Sciences Division
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Branch: Methods Development & Application Branch
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Product Type: Journal
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Published: 08/10/2004
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Bullet Item Air Levels of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Following the World Trade Center Disaster
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Bullet Item Xenobiotic Methods Development for Human Exposure Assessment Research
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