ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

March 6, 2002

2002.03.06: 90 Church Street Update

Filed under: 9/11,Health and Safety,Written Report — nyclaw01 @ 12:00 am



To: ALAA Members

From: Charlotte Hitchcock, Recording Secretary

Re: 90 Church Street Update

Date: March 6, 2002



From the very beginning, ALAA has been fully engaged, as an active participant, in the decision making of the ongoing health and safety concerns at 90 Church Street. Recently, I convened a meeting between ALAA, NYCOSH, the Society and Airtek, at which the Society openly requested the direct exchange of ideas and information from NYCOSH. As a labor advocacy organization, NYCOSH was pleasantly surprised by such a request. The Society also asked NYCOSH to assist it in providing training to management staff.

At this meeting, NYCOSH commended, not only, the collective and cooperative relationship that the Union and management have forged in addressing our environmental issues, but also the elaborate cleaning protocol that we have developed.  Our technical advisor, David Newman, told me that he is unaware of any other organization in lower Manhattan that has embraced a joint union/management approach to the WTC worker health and safety concerns.

In an effort to learn how other unions are focusing on the same issues, I reached out to DC 37 and the Mail Handlers Union which represents NYCHA and the USPS, respectively. While their unions are much larger than ours, they are not at all organized in dealing with the critical issues involving their space in 90 Church Street.

As our technical advisor, Newman also informed me that, because of the ALAA’s collective action with management, our organization is much farther ahead of other groups grappling with how to proceed. Consequently, NYCOSH has publicly used our approach as a model in advising other organizations. NYCOSH has actually referred groups and individuals to ALAA to discuss with us how to establish their cleaning protocol. Ironically, one such referral group that I recently spoke to was named “The Campaign for Clean Air”.

In addition, NYCOSH has also referred the press to us. Recently, ALAA was interviewed by the CBS Health and Safety Reporter, Paul Moniz, for a report on worker concerns at Ground Zero. Furthermore, ALAA was asked to attended a Saturday EPA hearing on the WTC Environmental Issues convened by Congressman Jerrold Nadler and EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin. I signed up to testify, but was unable to stay after waiting over five hours. ALAA expects to testify at the second EPA hearing scheduled for March 11th.

Overall, ALAA is on the right track in dealing with the anxiety provoking and sometimes overwhelming issues that have been presented to us at 90 Church Street. How do we know this to be true? Because we have been told it is true by the leading health and safety environmental organization in New York City – NYCOSH. The key to our success is that regardless of how much work or how difficult the issues become, we do not take shortcuts, but rather stay the course and work through each and every concern.


Why can paper, which is porous, be cleaned and other porous items cannot be cleaned?

The cleaning protocol was specifically designed to remove contaminants from paper. Our clearance testing confirms that we can, in fact, successfully “clean” paper.  The procedure was not intended to be used for other items.

Why isn’t an independent environmental testing company sampling the “cleaned” papers?

Airtek is an independent environmental testing company. NYCOSH considers Airtek to be very reputable.

Why weren’t the files preserved by a photocopying process in which the copies were protected from contamination by the originals?

The use of this methodology was discussed and considered to be a “last resort” option. While it may sound very reasonable and straight-forward, it is embroidered with complexity. Overall, NYCOSH did not support this method beyond a final contingent. Namely, the key problem was in how to ensure that the Xerox machines did not become contaminated. In addition, the possibility of  re-contamination of a copy being in contact with the original was great. Furthermore, the expense of this procedure would be tremendous.

Who supervised the decontamination process to ensure that it was being properly done?

Airtek monitored every aspect of the cleaning process, and communicated every aspect of the specifications for cleaning to ALAA for review and comment. NYCOSH has supported the decision that Airtek oversee the implementation of the cleaning protocol.

What is the decontamination process utilized for cleaning our files and papers?

Generally, decontamination consisted of two basic cleaning operations. First, “Gross Cleaning” at the point of origin of the materials (i.e., in an office, on a desk) was conducted. Gross cleaning included both HEPA vacuuming and wet wiping.  HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuuming is an industry term referring to a specific type of filter that filters down to 5 microns. Wet wiping does not consist of any chemicals. Materials were then transferred to a cleaning station for “Fine Cleaning”. Fine cleaning also included both HEPA vacuuming and wet wiping. The level of cleaning required was determined by visual inspection and confirmed by clearance testing.

Specifically, if a file was taken from a closed file cabinet or a desk drawer, it was removed from the location and held closed to avoid exposing protected materials to contamination. Any dust on the surface was removed in the gross cleaning stage. The file was then placed in a labeled clean box that was placed on new plastic, not on the floor. The file was then transported in the closed box by dolly to the decontamination chamber for fine cleaning.

In the decontamination chamber the file is now opened in the clean space. The file is fanned to shake out dust. If dust is revealed, the file is cleaned page by page. The “cleaned” file is now re-boxed in the same inventory box which has been HEPA vacuumed. The box is then doubled bagged at the cleaning site. Clearance testing is done in between the bagging process. The clearance testing is conducted for the presence of all the contaminants in our space. Wet wipe and air samples are taken. The air samples let us know if the actual handing of the paper is producing air borne levels of contaminants. The cleaning station is fed filtered air to create positive pressure so that no contaminant air can leak into the decontamination chamber.

How many lots of boxes were cleaned more than once?

Materials were transported to the decontamination chamber in lots. A lot represents 100 boxes. To date, 199 lots have moved through the cleaning process. Out of 199 lots, 198 were successfully cleaned. Out of the 198 successfully cleaned lots, 175 lots were successfully cleaned on the first attempt, 21 lots were successfully cleaned on the second attempt, and 2 lots were successfully cleaned after a third attempt. Only 1 lot, from the southwest and northwest side of the 15th floor, failed to pass clearance testing after the third attempt. Upon conferring with NYCOSH and Airtek, ALAA fully supports the decision to further re-clean this lot. NYCOSH has advised the Union that our cleaning protocol procedures are technically sound and the lot in question can be successfully cleaned.

What percentage of the boxes in a lot were clearance tested?

NYCOSH and Airtek both agreed that the application of the 10% industry standard was appropriate in our situation. Thus, 10 boxes out of every lot (100 boxes) were randomly clearance tested. Specifically, clearance testing means that wet wipe samples were taken from the materials in the boxes and sent to a laboratory for testing. In addition to the 10% that were actually laboratory tested, more than 10% of the boxes were “visually” inspected during and after the fine cleaning process. ALAA has been informed that statistically 10% is a high percentage. ALAA also learned that some organizations have reduced the industry standard to as low as 5%.

Primarily, the reason that we re-cleaned several lots was because our clearance testing methodology was very stringent. To date, the government has not promulgated any standards that can be specifically applied to the WTC disaster. For this very reason, the EPA is conducting hearings on the issue. The clearance testing which we used is based on OSHA standards. However, Airtek, with comments from NYCOSH, did not believe that OSHA standards were appropriate because they were created for workers who had a continual exposure to these contaminants. Thus, Airtek felt the standards were too liberal. As a result, we developed our clearance testing standard based upon 1/10 of the OSHA standard. In essence, it is more conservative by a factor of 10. Therefore, lots which failed our clearance testing, more than likely, would have passed under the unmodified OSHA standard.

It is also important to understand that when a lot failed, it did not mean that each box in that lot failed. Again based upon our strict methodology, a lot failed if there was any one failure, for any one contaminant, for any lot. Therefore, one box could fail an entire lot consisting of 100 boxes.

Based upon our inventory system we can always identify the location from where a box came.

How safe are the 1400 boxes removed from 90 Church street in October?

NYCOSH and Airtek both support the cleaning protocol which was applied to the decontamination of the first 1400. The main distinction that exists now is that we know which metals were contaminants in our space. So the natural question is, Does this information compromise the integrity of the decontamination process used in October?  The answer is no. The cleaning protocol applied on the first 1400 boxes and the cleaning protocol applied on the remaining 30,000 boxes was an asbestos abatement cleaning. Thus, NYCOSH advised ALAA in October, as it sat at the meeting with ALAA discussing the development of the protocol, that the asbestos abatement cleaning would also effectively remove any heavy metals. Excluding the few boxes that did not effectively go through the decontamination chamber, the successful clearance testing on the 1400 boxes demonstrated that the cleaning protocol was effective. The next natural question is, What about the Mercury which was discovered in our workspace after October?  As we have all learned, Mercury is not a heavy metal. However, once discovered the presence of Mercury, we conducted extensive and very expensive sampling testing of Mercury on paper. The results showed that under the cleaning protocol implemented on the 1400 boxes, we were able to remove the Mercury from the paper. For the sake of argument, assume for the moment that Mercury was on a sheet of paper, our ongoing testing has revealed that the Mercury has evaporated in our space.


Recognizing how sentimental and in some instances irreplaceable academic degrees and professional credentials are, I wanted to ensure that they were preserved with care. Thus, upon request, Dan Kessler, agreed to absorb the cost of having all professional degrees specially cleaned together. This arrangement was contingent upon me, personally, taking responsibility for all of the diplomas.

As a result, about a month ago, I suited up and walked through every office in our space and created my own inventory of such items. I did not discriminate between diplomas belonging to union or non-union staff. I pulled everyone’s degree that I could locate. The degrees were recently cleaned and, to the chagrin of my officemate, eight large boxes were delivered to my temporary office. Obviously, I would like to confer your degree upon you as soon as possible. I will email everyone on my list to make arrangements for pick-up.

WAREHOUSE- Document Retrieval Center

Prior to any staff being allowed to retrieve property, I inspected the warehouse with Dan Kessler and Airtek. The set-up agreed upon by management and the Union addresses the ongoing health and safety concerns. Specifically, four rooms located in a suite-like area have been reserved by the Society. Three of the rooms will be used to review boxes. The fourth room will serve as a community workspace. A copier, fax, laptop, and telephones will be available for your use. Each room is climate controlled and contains long tables and chairs. For convenience, also management purchased a refrigerator and microwave. Therefore, you may want to bring lunch with you. Restrooms are located within the space. The Society also shipped supplies, including toiletries, to the warehouse. As a precautionary measure, Airtek will conduct ongoing testing of the office area as well as the warehouse storage area. To date, no test results have presented any cause for alarm. As a further precautionary measure, the Society has hired a cleaning company to wipe down, pursuant to directions given by Airtek, all of the tables and to clean the office space at the end of the day.

When you arrive to the warehouse, your boxes will be waiting for you in an office. Dan Kessler will have a member of his staff present at all times. The move from 90 Church Street generated approximately 30,000 boxes. Out of that total, about 10,000 boxes have been sent to Iron Mountain. To see the rows and rows of boxes at the warehouse, as I have, it is quite surreal. It is an amazing wonder that the inventory system that we devised works at all. Although the Society has monitored the process to the best of its ability, ALAA knows that everything will not be perfect. In the event, that you open a box and discover dust, or any other substance that makes you feel uncomfortable, simply close the box and report this at once to the LAS staff person on sight. The box will be properly removed and re-cleaned. According to NYCOSH and Airtek, cross-contamination between boxes is not likely at this point because any materials left on these files 5 months after the “Event” are stable and likely to remain where they are. Most unstable contaminants (e.g., Mercury, Volatile Organic Compounds, Polynuclear Aromatics, Benzene, etc.) are most likely to have evaporated already.

Upon reviewing your boxes, you will be asked to do the following three things: (1) Discard any items which you do not need; (2) Re-label any boxes containing material that you want delivered to you; and (3) Re-label boxes that contain archive material that should be sent to Iron Mountain. To the extent possible, you are encouraged to take with you your personal property.


Personal items that were unable to be cleaned were inventoried and photographed. The inventory and photograph(s) will be returned to staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, this information will assist anyone in preparing a homeowners insurance claim.


As previously reported, NYCOSH and ALAA were developing the following training seminars for ALAA members:

Training I:   Introduction to Occupational Health and Safety

This session will focus on basic toxicology and the hierarchy of controls (the methods used in addressing hazards). NYCOSH will specifically discuss the contaminants known to exist in our workspace.

Training II: Regulatory Standards

This session will address regulatory standards and discuss how they may or may not apply to the WTC situation. NYCOSH will also provide an overview of the current environmental status in lower Manhattan.

Each of the above two seminars will be conducted in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx during lunchtime. The seminars will be held from 1:15-2:30 pm. The dates were finalized by NYCOSH on March 4th.  The scheduled dates for Training I are March 19, March 26, March 28, and April 2. The dates for Training II are April 3, April 11, April 18, and April 25.  As soon as conference room reservations have been completed in each borough, the locations will be posted. Of course, 1199 members will be invited to attend all the trainings.


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