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ATSDR'S role in the response to terrorism
Lower Manhattan, New York
April 2002

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ATSDR staff at Ground Zero in New York City.

Since the September 11 attacks, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has worked with other federal agencies, state and local health departments, and other organizations to respond to the enormous challenges of this tragedy. ATSDR also assisted in the response to the anthrax contamination of postal facilities, government, and media offices. ATSDR, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, worked in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in many of these activities and provided workers to help staff the CDC's emergency operations center, which operated around the clock. Altogether, more than 120 ATSDR staff members have been directly involved in the response effort.

ATSDR staff members have assisted the response effort in a variety of ways -- including conducting environmental sampling at anthrax-contaminated offices, mapping sampling locations, helping to develop screening guidelines for asbestos and other hazardous substances, sampling dust in Manhattan residences, answering questions from the news media, and speaking with groups of business owners, residents, rescue workers, and others in New York to answer their health questions.

Response to the Attacks of September 11

The ATSDR desk at the CDC's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was staffed 24 hours a day, and provided quick answers to health questions about asbestos fibers and particulates present in the dust cloud from the World Trade Center, as well as assistance in answering many other calls. A significant number of ATSDR staff members in the agency's Atlanta headquarters also provided surge-capacity staffing support to the EOC. Two of ATSDR's Commissioned Corps officers were detailed to New York through the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Readiness Force to serve with disaster mortuary units. Several ATSDR staff members with expertise in environmental health assessment, air monitoring, health risk communication, and industrial hygiene were sent to assist the agency's New York office staff with the response at Ground Zero.

Some of the activities in which ATSDR staff members participated included the following:

ATSDR Assistance in Sampling Air in Lower Manhattan

Dust covers the interior of a Manhattan residence

One major effort in which ATSDR has assisted the New York City Department of Health has been in sampling air and dust in residences in lower Manhattan. An ATSDR technical team provided the draft sampling plan and conducted the technical review of the analytical results from the sampling effort. The sampling and analysis were designed to determine if residents are being exposed to concentrations of materials that may be harmful, determine whether areas already cleaned contain materials that may be of public health concern, and provide information to the public on possible public health concern. Samples collected under the plan included air samples taken from various areas of lower Manhattan; dust samples taken from residential units, residential common areas, and outdoor areas; and background samples of both dust and air taken from four buildings north of 59th Street.

The sampling results, which have been provided to city and state health and environmental officials, as well as residents and building landlords and owners, included the following:

Residential Air and Dust Sampling Locations in Lower Manhattan

Map of residential air and dust sampling locations in lower Manhattan.

In response to the findings of the indoor air sampling effort, ATSDR and the New York City Department of Health recommended that people continue to conduct frequent cleaning with HEPA vacuums and damp cloths or mops to reduce the potential for exposure. Exposure to fibrous glass may cause rashes and upper respiratory irritation.

Response to the Anthrax Mailings

American Media building in Florida.

ATSDR's expertise in environmental sampling and assessment was called upon to help unravel the perplexing questions about anthrax contamination. ATSDR sent staff members to sites in Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kansas, and Washington, D.C., to assist in the public health response. As a result of ATSDR's long-standing working partnership with EPA for Superfund work, the agency was able to effectively facilitate communication between the CDC and the EPA On-Scene Coordinators, who were responsible for directing the environmental sampling, assessment and clean-up at affected sites. Some of the activities in which staff members were involved included the following:

Other ATSDR Activities Related to the Response to Terrorism

ATSDR has joined non-infectious disease centers at the CDC to form an Inter-Agency Working Group for Event-Based Preparedness Planning. This working group is developing detailed plans for responding to non-infectious types of terrorism, such as chemical and radiological events, mass casualties caused by explosions and fires, and the use of panic and infrastructure disruption as tools of terrorism.

February 2002

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This page last updated on April 23, 2002

Contact Name: Joanne D. Cox/

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