Residual indoor contamination from World Trade Center rubble fires as indicated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon profiles

Joachim D. Pleil*, William E. Funk, Stephen M. Rappaport

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The catastrophic destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) on Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11) created an immense dust cloud followed by fires that emitted smoke and soot into the air of New York City (NYC) well into December. Outdoor pollutant levels in lower Manhattan returned to urban background levels after about 200 days as the fires were put out and the debris cleanup was completed. However, particulate matter (PM) from the original collapse and fires also penetrated into commercial and residential buildings. This has created public concern because WTC dust is thought to cause adverse pulmonary symptoms including "WTC cough" and reduced lung capacity. Additionally, some recent studies have suggested a possible link between exposure to WTC contamination and other adverse health effects. Distinguishing between normal urban pollutant infiltration and residual WTC dust remaining in interior spaces is difficult; efforts are underway to develop such discriminator methods. Some progress has been made in identifying WTC dust by the content of fibers believed to be associated with the initial building collapse. There are also contaminants created by the fires that burned for 100 days in the debris piles of the building rubble. Using WTC ambient air samples, we have developed indicators for fire related PM based on the relative amounts of specific particle bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and the mass fraction of PAHs per mass of PM. These two parameters are combined, and we show a graphical method for discriminating between fire sources and urban particulate sources as applied to samples of settled dusts. We found that our PAHs based discriminator method can distinguish fire source contributions to WTC related particulate matter and dusts. Other major building fires or large open burn events could have similar PAHs characteristics. We found that random samples collected ∼3.5 years after the WTC event from occupied indoor spaces (primarily residential) in the New York area are not statistically distinguishable from contemporary city background.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1172-1177
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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