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Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2010) 20, 491–492

r 2010 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved 1559-0631/10


Response to the comment by Henry Kahn and Dennis Santella on a
summary of the development of a signature for detection of residual dust
from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings


US Geological Survey, MS973, Denver, Colorado, USA
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of New Jersey, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers University,
New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Department of Environmental and Community Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine, New York University, Tuxedo, New York, USA

Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2010) 20, 491–492; doi:10.1038/jes.2010.45

We believe that the comments by Henry Kahn and Dennis four Albany samples continue to be incorrectly used to argue
Santella (K&S) are flawed because they assume a use for the that slag wool could not be reliably detected above
signature method that was never intended. Further, the K&S background.
comments neglect to provide an adequate history of the Second, the error bars in Figure 3 of our paper were
process that led to the development of the WTC dust derived strictly from actual fiber counts as described in ISO
signature. 14966. The fiber count uncertainty is independent of how the
Our responses to K&S are from the perspective of the particles got onto the substrate, and the units employed to
Signature Sub-Group of the World Trade Center Expert express fiber concentration, for example, fibers/liter of air, or
Technical Review Panel (WTCETRP). The WTCETRP fibers/milligram of liquid.
( was convened to address Third, the K&S notion of a ‘‘convenience’’ background
outstanding public health issues, potential residual environ- appeared only in their comments. EPA collected the
mental contamination from WTC dust, and the geographic representative background samples used in the signature
extent of the dust plume generated by the 9/11/2001 tragedy. study. We are somewhat baffled by what background seems
( now to mean to K&S.
We thank K&S for alerting us to two misstatements in our The issues that we address below are extremely important,
paper that we hereby correct. The statement ‘‘The 5% and but beyond the scope of our paper. We appreciate the
10% USGS samples are clearly distinguishable from the opportunity given to respond to these issues now being raised
remaining samples in all cases’’ should read ‘‘The 5% and by K&S.
10% USGS samples are clearly distinguishable from the From the perspective of the Signature Sub-Group, the slag
remaining samples in most cases.’’ Also, the last sentence of wool dust signature was developed for use in conjunction
the caption for Figure 3 should read ‘‘All labs that passed with existing validated methods for the analysis of con-
EPA’s quality assurance test (Rosati et al., 2008) could taminants of potential concern (COPCs), including asbestos,
distinguish background material from the 5 and 10% USGS- lead, glass fibers, and PAHs (EPA (2005a), and subsequent
spiked material.’’ We note, however, that these corrections do discussions by the WTCETRP on 12 July and 13 December
not affect any of our conclusions. Additional issues raised by 2005). The phase I study was intended to analyze samples
K&S are addressed below. from buildings impacted by the building collapse dust cloud
First, we categorically challenge any arguments, conclu- in areas near the WTC site, and farther away where less
sions, or statistical analyses based on the incorrect assump- impacted. Data collected from the phase I study would then
tion that the four Albany samples represent a legitimate be analyzed to determine the strength of correlations between
spiking material, that is, representative of undiluted WTC COPC and the slag wool signature. The slag wool signature
dust as generated on 9/11. The results from analyses of the was never intended to be the sole indicator of WTC dust
Letter to the Editor

contamination. In addition, the WTCETRP fully recognized During the final meeting of the WTCETRP on 13
that there would be some false positives. The purpose of the December 2005, the WTCETRP clearly expressed its dismay
signature study, from the perspective of the Signature Sub- with the decision by EPA to not proceed with the modified
Group, was to (1) determine whether qualified laboratories phase I study using the WTC signature (http://www.epa.
could identify slag wool in ‘‘background’’ samples spiked gov/wtc/panel/meetings-20051213.html). Therefore, we
with various levels of WTC dust; and (2) determine whether encourage all interested readers to pull up the entire record
the average background of slag wool in samples unaffected to get the full story.
by the WTC dust cloud would be at levels where the false- The lessons learned that we refer to in our paper, from the
positive rate would be acceptable. Based on the results of the 21 months for which the WTCETRP was active, are not that
signature study we believe that both of these criteria were slag wool should be used as an indicator of contamination in
successfully met (see p. 21, EPA, 2005b). It should be noted some future catastrophe, as suggested by K&S. Rather they
that the goal was to determine the presence of slag wool, are the lessons of a flawed process that must be understood in
which in undiluted WTC dust could be upwards of 20–50% its entirety by researchers and the community, so that a
of the total mass (Meeker et al., 2005a), before approving an similar situation does not occur again.
initial or secondary clean-up of COPCs that are generally
found at trace levels in undiluted WTC dust (Lioy et al,
Conflict of interest
2002; Meeker et al., 2005b).
The sole reason given by EPA for not proceeding with the The authors declare no conflict of interest.
phase I sampling and analysis plan was the lack of full
endorsement by the peer review report on the signature study
(Oppelt, 2005; EPA, 2005c). The Signature Sub-Group References
provided comments in response to the signature study peer
EPA. 2005a:
review report (Meeker and Lippmann, 2005), which K&S EPA. 2005b:
neglect to mention. These Signature Sub-Group comments EPA. 2005c:
Lioy P.J., Weisel C.P., Millette J.R., Eisenreich S., Vallero D., and Offenberg J.,
address most of the issues raised by the peer review committee.
et al. Characterization of the dust/smoke aerosol that settled east of the World
These comments also contain a document from the Chair of the Trade Center (WTC) in lower Manhattan after the collapse of the WTC 11
Signature Sub-Group (Comments on Draft Charge Questions September 2001. Environ. Health Perspect. 2002: 110: 703–714.
Meeker G.P., Bern A.M., Lowers H.A., and Brownfield I.K. Determination of a
from Greg Meeker, July 2005) discussing problems with the
diagnostic signature for World Trade Center dust using scanning electron
charge questions provided to the peer review committee by EPA microscopy point counting techniques: U.S. Geological Survey Open File
(Charge Questions, August 2005). To the best of our knowl- Report 2005-1031, 2005a.
Meeker G.P., Sutley S.J., Brownfield I.K., Lowers H.A., Bern A.M., and
edge, Meeker’s comments were, for the most part, ignored by
Swayze G.A., et al. Materials characterization of dusts generated by the
the EPA. We maintain that many, if not most, of the issues collapse of the world trade center, in urban aerosols and their impacts: lessons
raised in the signature study peer review report had already been learned from the world trade center tragedy. A.C.S. Symp. Ser. 2005b: 919:
addressed by the Signature Sub-Group, by EPA, and by the
Meeker G., Lioy P., and Lippmann M. 2005:
WTCETRP prior to the signature study peer review. We also SubGroupComments_110305.pdf.
believe that the signature study peer review was conducted Oppelt. 2005:
Rosati J.A., Bern A.M., Willis R.D., Blanchard F.T., Conner T.L., Kahn H.D.,
without the context and background information necessary to
and Friedman D. Multi-laboratory testing of a screening method for World
properly evaluate the signature study. Trade Center (WTC) collapse dust. Sci. Total Environ 2008: 390: 514–519.

492 Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2010) 20(6)