At least 30,000 tons of scrap from the World Trade Center wreckage has been exported to India. Concerns over the potential contamination of the steel scrap has alarmed trade union and environmental groups in India and the United States who say that uninformed workers may be exposed to the harmful toxins while handling the scrap.
If the rest of the debris at Ground Zero is any indication, it cannot be ruled out that the WTC scrap may be contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, mercury, lead and other heavy metals.
Environmentalists and unionists called for an immediate investigation into whether the shipments are contaminated and for a halt to further moving of the scrap until it is proven that the shipments are entirely safe for the workers handling it and the environment.
Dockers at Chennai, Kandla and Kolkata ports are refusing to handle any more shipments of WTC scrap. Muthuraman Kumaran, a trade union leader at Chennai port, said, “We do not want laborers to handle scrap containing harmful toxins. We will touch the scrap only after getting environmental and medical certificates from competent authorities including the Indian government.”
According to Greenpeace India, the WTC wreckage cannot be treated as ordinary steel scrap because everything in the Twin Towers – including the tube lights containing mercury, the asbestos insulation, PVC articles and computers – was incinerated after 91,000 liters of jet fuel ignited in the buildings.
“There are no safe levels of exposure to cancer-causing substances like asbestos, dioxins, and toxic metals like cadmium, mercury and lead,” Manu Gopalan, Greenpeace’s toxics campaigner in India, told India Abroad.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), currently run by Bush-appointed Christine Todd Whitman, who had a reputation of gutting the New Jersey EPA while governor, has consistently denied any high levels of toxins at Ground Zero in New York. But rescue workers and area residents have complained about air quality and respiratory problems. The WTC site may be designated as a Superfund site, meaning a highly contaminated area.
The Indian importers have sent samples of the scrap to SAS Global Services, a privately held software company well-connected to the EPA and other government agencies.
The steel scrap may not represent the same level of health threat as Ground Zero, according to CorpWatch.org, but given the amount of material involved and the short time frame for any decontamination process, it is possible the steel is contaminated with toxic materials.
Under the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, it falls to the Indian government to prevent the import of wastes if they are found hazardous. But that’s because the U.S. refuses to sign the Basel Convention and is, therefore, not bound by the treaty. This includes an amendment, known as the Basel Ban, prohibiting developed countries, like the U.S., from exporting hazardous material to industrializing nations like India.