ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

March 6, 2002

2002.03.06: 90 Church Street Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — nyclaw01 @ 12:31 pm

[Original Format: Church Street Update

To: ALAA Members

From: Charlotte Hitchcock, Recording Secretary

Re: 90 Church Street Update

Date: March 6, 2002


Due to the important nature of various emails which have been sent to me over the past couple of weeks, I believe that the following information may be useful to all ALAA members. In consideration of the fact that our technical advisor at NYCOSH was out of town for a period of time, these answers were collected as quickly as possible.


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

The cleaning protocol was specifically designed to remove contaminants from paper. Clearance testing confirms that paper was successfully cleaned. 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.

In the prescribed cleaning protocol, why weren’t the files preserved by a photocopying process?

NYCOSH advised us that this option should be a “last resort,” since it is difficult to prevent contamination of copiers and re-contamination of copies. Furthermore, the expense of this procedure would be prohibitive.

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 this cleaning protocol.

What decontamination process is used to clean our files and papers?

Decontamination began with “gross cleaning” at the point of origin (e.g., in an office, on a desk). Gross cleaning included both HEPA vacuuming and chemical-free wet wiping. Materials were then transferred to a cleaning station for “fine cleaning,” which included an additional level of HEPA vacuuming and wet wiping, as deemed necessary through visual inspection and which was confirmed by clearance testing.

Thus, files taken from a closed file cabinet or desk drawer were 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 files were then placed in clean, labeled boxes, which were placed on new plastic, rather than the floor. Files were then transported in the closed boxes by dolly to the decontamination chamber for fine cleaning.

In the decontamination chamber, files were fanned to shake out dust. If dust was revealed, the file was cleaned, page by page. The “cleaned” files were then re-packed in the same inventory boxes which had been HEPA vacuumed. Boxes were then doubled-bagged at the cleaning site. In between the bagging process, clearance testing was conducted for the presence of all the contaminants found in our space. Wet wipe and air samples were taken to determine if the actual handing of the paper has produced air borne levels of contaminants. The cleaning station is fed filtered air to create positive pressure so that no contaminated 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, 175 of them on the first attempt, 21 lots on the second attempt, and 2 lots 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 that the lot in question can be successfully cleaned.

What percentage of the boxes in a lot was 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. 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 and that some organizations have reduced the industry standard to as low as 5%.

The primary reason that several lots were re-cleaned was that 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 boxes. Since we know which metal contaminants are now present in our space, the natural question is: Does this information invalidate the decontamination process used in October?

NYCOSH has advised us that it does not. The protocol applied to the first 1400 boxes and to the remaining 30,000 boxes was an asbestos abatement cleaning. In October, NYCOSH advised that asbestos abatement cleaning would effectively remove any heavy metals. Except for the few boxes that did not effectively go through the decontamination chamber, successful clearance testing of 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? Once the presence of Mercury was discovered, Airtek conducted extensive and very expensive sampling testing of mercury on paper. The results showed that the protocol used to clean the 1400 boxes was able to remove the mercury from the paper. In addition, ongoing testing has revealed that the mercury has evaporated in our space.


Recognizing professional credentials have sentimental value and may be irreplaceable, I wanted to ensure that they were preserved with care. Dan Kessler agreed to my request that the Society absorb the cost of specially cleaning all professional degrees, contingent upon my taking personal 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 an inventory of these items (I did not discriminate between diplomas belonging to union or non-union staff) and pulled everyone’s degree that I could locate. The degrees were recently cleaned and, to the chagrin of my office mate, 8 large boxes were delivered to my temporary office. Obviously, I would like to confer your degree upon you as soon as possible, and will email everyone on my list to make arrangements for pick-up.

Warehouse-Document Retrieval Center

Prior to allowing any staff to retrieve property from the warehouse, I inspected the facility with Dan Kessler and Airtek to ensure that procedures at the location address ongoing health and safety concerns. Specifically, Management has reserved four rooms located in a suite-like area. Three of these rooms will be used to review boxes. The fourth will serve as a community workspace with copier, fax, laptop, and telephones available for your use. Each room is climate controlled and contains long tables and chairs. Management has also purchased a refrigerator and microwave, so you may want to bring lunch with you. The Society has also arranged for restrooms, toiletries and other supplies.

As a precautionary measure, Airtek will conduct ongoing testing of the offices and warehouse storage area. To date, no test results have presented any cause for alarm. Pursuant to directions given by Airtek, the Society has also hired a cleaning company to wipe down all of the tables and 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 not everything will 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-site. 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: (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 your personal property home with you.


Personal items that could not be cleaned were inventoried and photographed and will be returned to staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, this information will assist anyone in preparing a homeowner insurance claim.


As previously reported, NYCOSH and ALAA are 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.

Both seminars will be conducted in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx during lunchtime from 1:15-2:30 p.m. The dates were finalized by NYCOSH on March 4. 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.


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 Union’s health and safety consultant), the Society and Airtek (the Society’s consultant), at which the Society requested NYCOSH’s recommendations. 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, the NYCOSH technical adviser, David Newman, commended both the collaborative relationship that the Union and management have forged in addressing our environmental issues, and the elaborate cleaning protocol that we have developed. 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 represent NYCHA and the USPS, respectively. These much larger unions do not appear to be as organized in dealing with the critical issues involving their space in 90 Church Street.

Newman also informed me that NYCOSH has publicly used our approach as a model other organizations and has referred groups and individuals to ALAA for advice about how to establish their own cleaning protocol. (Ironically, I recently spoke to one such group named “The Campaign for Clean Air.”)

NYCOSH has also arranged an interview of ALAA representatives with CBS Health and Safety Reporter Paul Moniz concerning worker concerns at Ground Zero. ALAA was also asked to attend a Saturday EPA hearing on WTC Environmental Issues convened by Congressman Jerrold Nadler and EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin. ALAA expects to testify at the second EPA hearing scheduled for March 11.

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.

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