The Implosion of the Calgary General Hospital: Ambient Air Quality Issues

ISSN 1047-3289 J. Air & Waste Manage. Assoc. 55:52–59
Copyright 2005 Air & Waste Management Association
The Implosion of the Calgary General Hospital: Ambient Air
Quality Issues
Dennis Stefani
Risk Assessment and Management Section, Environmental Health, Calgary Health Region,
Alberta, Canada
Dennis Wardman
First Nations and Inuit Health, Health Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Timothy Lambert
Risk Assessment and Management Section, Environmental Health, Calgary Health Region,
Alberta, Canada
This paper discusses the implosion of a large inner-city hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on October 4, 1998. Stationary and mobile air monitoring conducted after the implosion indicated there were several short-term air quality
issues, including significant temporal increases in total suspended particles, particulate matter (PM) with aerodynamic
diameter less than or equal to 10 ␮m (PM10), PM with
aerodynamic diameter less than or equal to 2.5 ␮m (PM2.5),
asbestos, and airborne and settled lead. In addition, the
implosion created a dust cloud that traveled much further
than expected, out to 20 km. The ability of an implosion to
effectively aerosolize building materials requires the removal of all friable and nonfriable forms of asbestos and all
Pb-containing painted surfaces during pre-implosion preparatory work. Public advisories to mitigate personal exposure
and indoor migration of the implosion dust cloud constituents should extend to 10 or 20 km around an implosion
site. These findings point to a number of complex and
problematic issues regarding implosions and safeguarding
The ability of an implosion to effectively aerosolize building
materials indicates that all lead painted surfaces and nonfriable and friable asbestos-containing materials should be
removed from a building during the preparatory work. The
implosion dust cloud affected ambient air quality up to 20
kilometers downwind and suggests that public advisory
zones around implosion sites should be extended. The
necessity for large advisory zones in densely populated
areas will be a challenge for the effective public communication of the health risks, mitigation, and cleanup strategies. We suggest that implosions should be prohibited in
densely populated areas.
52 Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association
human health and suggest that implosions in metropolitan
areas should be prohibited. Further work to characterize the
public health risks of conventional versus implosion demolition is recommended.
In 1994, the province of Alberta underwent healthcare
system regionalization, with one of the regions created
being the Calgary Regional Health Authority (CRHA). As
part of the CRHA’s restructuring plan, the buildings that
comprised the Calgary General Hospital–Bow Valley Centre (BVC) were imploded on October 4, 1998. The hospital
comprised numerous buildings constructed over an extended period of time beginning in 1910. In total, seven
buildings over three stories in height and 84,000 m2 in
area were imploded using ⬃2300 kg of explosives.
The hospital was located within an older residential
community. A concern regarding the building implosion
was the generation of a large dust cloud that would engulf
the adjacent residential area, buildings, and bystanders.
The constituents of implosion dust clouds are largely unexplored, although they can reasonably be expected to
reflect building material and soil constituents.
A literature search has revealed very few published studies on implosion dust clouds. A hospital was imploded in
Minneapolis, MN, in September 1981 during 16 –24 km/hr
wind speeds and sunny skies.1 The investigators measured
indoor and outdoor airborne fungal concentrations before
and after the implosion. Depending on the species, outdoor
concentrations increased up to 3 orders of magnitude at
60 m from the implosion site. Smaller increases (⬍10 times)
were observed indoors in adjacent hospital buildings, relative to indoor backgrounds, and reflect staff efforts to seal
the building before demolition. Heating, ventilation, and air
Volume 55 January 2005
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
Figure 1. Map of the Bow Valley Centre implosion site showing stationary monitoring locations, Calgary, Alberta.
conditioning systems were operated in the 100% recirculation mode, and the outdoor air intakes were sealed.
Anecdotally, the Baltimore City Health Department2
and Las Vegas County3 reported large implosion dust
clouds that dissipated in 20 –30 min at ⬃1 km distance.
Reported PM10 concentrations in the dust cloud ranged
from 150 to 200 ␮g/m3. Thick dust coatings on nearby
vehicles and buildings suggest that very large particulates
quickly settled out of the dust cloud.
Because some dust was anticipated from the implosion, residents within 1 km surrounding the BVC were
advised to close windows and doors, seal them, and leave
the area to mitigate any exposures. This distance was
based on anecdotal information that the dust cloud
would dissipate within 1 km of the implosion site. Contrary to this advice, many people congregated around the
site in a festive atmosphere to witness the implosion.
Before the implosion, all friable and some nonfriable
asbestos was removed from the structures. Lead (Pb)
present in the paint because of the age of the building was
assumed to have an insignificant impact on air quality or
deposition. Because of the limited literature on implosions, these findings can be a useful planning tool for
managing future implosions and future research.
The study addressed four null hypotheses: (1) the implosion of the BVC will generate a pollutant cloud above
ambient guidelines within 1 km of the implosion site; (2)
there will be insignificant ambient levels and public
health risks from Pb and asbestos within 1 km of the site
Volume 55 January 2005
because of the removal of friable and some nonfriable
asbestos and the assumption of negligible Pb; (3) the
implosion cloud will not affect ambient air quality beyond 1 km; and (4) the implosion will not result in an
elevated health risk for residents beyond 1 km.
The hypotheses were tested by measuring pre-implosion, implosion, and post-implosion air quality for total
suspended particles (TSP), airborne asbestos, and airborne
and deposited Pb. The dynamics of the implosion dust cloud
dissipation was followed with time in terms of TSP, inhalable PM10 (particle size ⬍10 ␮m diameter), and respirable
PM2.5 (particle size ⬍2.5 ␮m diameter). The concentrations
of the pollutants generated in the implosion were compared
against guidelines indicating potential public health risks.
Air Monitoring
Fixed and mobile air monitoring occurred before, during,
and post-implosion. Fixed air sampling locations for TSP
(Alberta Environment Method A-8 –1), PCM (Phase Contrast
Microscopy) asbestos (National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health [NIOSH] #7400), transmission electron
microscopy (TEM) asbestos (NIOSH #7402), Pb (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Method #3051), and surfacedeposited Pb (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] Title X) are shown in Figure 1. The
hospital occupies a large area of the primary evacuation
zone identified in the figure. Alberta Environment’s mobile
monitoring vehicle was used to record TSP, PM10, and PM2.5
(Grimm 1.105 laser dispersion). Ambient air quality
data also were obtained from the permanent Alberta
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 53
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
Environment air monitoring station located 2 km southwest
in downtown Calgary.
Fixed sampling consisted of background 24-hr average concentrations before the blast, during, and immediately after the implosion (measured concentrations between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on October 4), postimplosion (between 11:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. the next
day), and a calculated 24-hr average between 8:00 a.m. on
October 4 and 8:00 a.m. on October 5). The implosion
occurred October 4, 1998, at 8:00 a.m. Alberta Public
Works, Supply & Services did all of the stationary sampling through their consultant, PHH Environmental. The
Alberta Environment mobile monitoring vehicle was used
to follow visually the path of the dust cloud along its
southeastern course. Peak or maximum 1-min average
concentrations were recorded from the vehicle.
Health Risk Assessment
The air quality data were compared with ambient air
quality guidelines that were in place the year of the implosion (1998), and the analysis was updated with some
current health risk information for acute exposures to
PM2.5. Where there were no Alberta standards or guidelines, those from other jurisdictions were utilized.
• TSP, 100 ␮g/m3 24-hr average Alberta Ambient
Air Quality Guideline as defined by Alberta Environment;
• Airborne PCM asbestos fibers, 0.01 fibers/cm3,
which is the Alberta indoor air clearance criterion
following asbestos abatement;
• Airborne Pb, 5 ␮g/m3 24-hr average as defined by
the Ontario government in the Ambient Air
Quality Criteria Regulation;4
• Settled Pb dust as 500 – 800 ␮g/ft2 as defined by
HUD5 for interior window stills and window
troughs in homes; and
• Mice lungs instilled with 100 ␮g of World Trade
Center (WTC) PM2.5 surface dust demonstrated
lung inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness with methacholine challenge, which was estimated to be equivalent to a human inhalation concentration of 450 ␮g/m3.6 The authors estimated
that active healthy workers exposed to this concentration over an 8-hr period would develop lung
inflammation, air hyper-responsiveness, and upper
respiratory tract irritation. Hypersusceptibles, such
as asthmatics, were thought to develop these problems at lower doses. The NOAEL (No Observable
Adverse Effect Level) in this study was a mouse dose
of 31.6 ␮g, equivalent to an 8-hr hard-working
adult exposure of 134 ␮g/m3.
There are numerous protocols for deriving reference
concentrations or ambient air quality guidelines aimed at
54 Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association
public health protection from animal studies.7–9 Using the
NOAEL approach, it would not be unusual to apply up to an
order of magnitude reduction to the dose-adjusted human
equivalent concentration to account for hypersusceptibles
in the human population. The experimental NOAEL dose
for mice in the WTC study was 31.6 ␮g for PM2.5 dust,
equivalent to a resting adult human inhalation concentration after 15-min exposure at 20 m3/day of 9200 ␮g/m3.
It would be prudent to lower this concentration to be
protective of hypersusceptibles within the general population. In consideration of a possible 10⫻ adjustment, the
recommended public health guideline for the prevention of
noncancer acute adverse respiratory effects from implosion
dust cloud PM2.5 is 920 ␮g/m3 for a short-term exposure of
15 min.
The literature was searched to find methods for shortterm cancer risk assessment. Because none were found, cancer risk for asbestos exposure for the short period was amortized over a lifetime. An acute exposure factor was
included to account for the increased potency of carcinogens with short-term exposure based on the observations of
short-term exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAHs) and development of cancer. Acute health risks for
exposure to implosion dust were evaluated by comparison
with the toxicological data from the dust generated from the
WTC collapse.
On the morning of the implosion, the weather conditions
were as follows: clear sky, temperature 8 °C, and wind from
the northwest at 7 km/hr (ground level). The results of
monitoring are displayed in Table 1 for the fixed air sampling locations and in Table 2 for the mobile monitoring.
The fixed pre-implosion monitoring sample results established background concentrations of TSP, asbestos, and
airborne and surface Pb (Tables 1 and 2). For mobile monitoring results, the permanently located Alberta Environment air monitoring station in downtown Calgary 2 km to
the southwest provided additional estimates of background
PM10 and PM2.5. Hourly average (range) PM10 and PM2.5
concentrations for October 4 were 8.9 (5–12.5) and 5.3 (3.5–
6.5) ␮g/m3, respectively. For 1998, the hourly PM10 average
and 98th percentile concentrations were 32 and 127 ␮g/m3.
For PM2.5 the average and 98th percentile were 13 and 38
␮g/m3. The mobile van provided 1-min average background
estimates of TSP, PM10, and PM2.5 levels during the preimplosion period and on the half-hour drive back to the
implosion site (9:32–10:05 a.m.) Average and (maximum)
1-min TSP, PM10, and PM2.5 concentrations on the drive
back were 47 (338), 35 (264), and 8 (51) ␮g/m3, respectively.
Pre-implosion background measurements were considerably lower and reflect the influence of the early morning
hours and site security.
Volume 55 January 2005
Volume 55 January 2005
Table 1. Stationary ambient air quality monitoring data (Alberta Public Works, Supply & Services).
Sample Locations
Distance from Implosion site (m)
TSP, ␮g/m3
Pre-implosion (24-hr averages for Sept 26/
27/Oct 3)
Implosion (Oct 4 8:00–11:00 AM)
Post-implosion (11:00–8:00 AM)
Implosion and post-implosion (24-hr average)
Airborne PCM asbestos, fibers/cm3
nd ⫽ no data
300 west
50 north
200 northeast
50 east
400 southeast
50 south
550 east
5500 (22-min sample)
nd/nd/ ⬍0.001
⬍0.001/0.001/ ⬍0.001
nd/nd/ ⬍0.001
nd/nd/nd/ 0.003
1.88 (22-min sample)
0.08 (22-min sample)
⬍0.001/ ⬍0.001
1347 (retest 1548)
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 55
Pre-implosion (24-hr averages for Sept 26/
27/Oct 3)
Implosion (8:00–11:00 AM)
Post-implosion (11:00 AM-8:00 AM)
Implosion and post-implosion (24-hr average)
Airborne TEM asbestos, fibers/cm3
Pre-implosion (24-hr averages for Sept 26/
Implosion (8:00–11:00 AM)
Post-Implosion (11:00 AM-8:00 AM)
Implosion and post-implosion (24-hr average)
Airborne Pb, ␮g/m3
Pre-implosion (24-hr average Sept 26/Oct 3)
Implosion (8:00–11:00 AM)
Post-Implosion (11:00–8:00 AM)
Implosion and post-implosion (24-hr average)
Pb in settled dust (wipe sampling), ␮g/ft2
Pre-implosion (Oct 3)
Post-implosion (Oct 4)
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
Table 2. Mobile air monitoring data summary (Alberta Environment).
Average (Maximum) 1-Min Concentration
Pre-implosion, 500 m from site (southeast)
Implosion occurs
Post-implosion (PI), 500 m from site
ⵑ68,522 (includes
15,412 (17,692)
5203 (7767)
923 (1047)
ⵑ60,663 (includes
9050 (11,005)
4049 (5859)
740 (797)
1674 (2367)
630 (825)
175 (190)
1817 (2858)
1821 (2264)
1100 (1237)
47 (338)
1351 (2101)
1394 (1709)
873 (965)
35 (264)
242 (288)
227 (253)
152 (154)
8 (51)
8:21 AM
8:23–8:24 AM
8:33–8:38 AM
8:42–8:43 AM
8:51–855 AM
PI, 17 km from site
PI, 20 km from site
PI, 25 km from site
9:03–9:04 AM
9:17–9:19 AM
9:28 AM
9:31 AM
PI, 500 m from site
PM2.5 (␮g/m3)
Based on the stationary monitoring results, hypothesis 1 is accepted; a pollutant cloud above ambient guidelines within 1 km of the site was observed. The Alberta
ambient air quality guideline for the 24-hr average
implosion and post-implosion TSP was exceeded at
locations 4, 5, 6, and likely 7, all within 1 km and downwind (southeast) from the implosion (Figure 1).
Based on stationary monitoring results, the hypothesis
that there would be insignificant levels of airborne and
deposited Pb and airborne asbestos within 1 km is rejected.
PCM asbestos concentrations exceeded airborne criteria at a
number of downwind locations (Table 1). A number of
exceedence samples were reanalyzed for TEM asbestos. Reanalysis results showed that the TEM asbestos concentrations were elevated at a number of downwind locations for
the 3-hr monitoring period immediately following the implosion but were all below the guideline for calculated 24-hr
average. The 24-hr average post-implosion airborne lead
concentrations were elevated compared with normal background levels but were not above the 24-hr guideline. Wipe
test results for Pb in settled dust ranged from “below detection limits” to a high of 1347 ␮g/ft2 at location #6 (Table 1).
The elevated Pb wipe sample at location #4 is equivalent to
a soil mass concentration of 10 –15 ppm (assuming 1-cmdeep soil), which is roughly equivalent to background soil
56 Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association
2.5 km from site
3 km from site
6 km from site
8 km from site
13 km from site
PI, return to site
PM10 (␮g/m3)
AM–8:00 AM
Average between
8:12 AM and 8:19 AM
TSP (␮g/m3)
Location intermediate
between stationary
locations #7 and #5
The bulk of the dust cloud
passed over monitoring
van in 7 min
Fluctuating values caused
by the difficulty in
tracking and staying in
the dust cloud
Background, upwind of
dust cloud
Cleaning activities
underway (street
sweeping) around BVC
levels seen in the city of Calgary. However, the test results at
location #6 were considered elevated based on the adopted
HUD criterion. As a result, the building, playground equipment, and grounds in the area were washed down using fire
hoses. The washing was effective in reducing the level as
indicated by the post-washing test result average of 524
␮g/ft2 (n ⫽ 3).
The hypothesis that the implosion would not result in
an elevated health risk for nearby residents within 1 km
from the site, with respect to asbestos, is accepted with
reservation. The public exposure to airborne asbestos following the implosion was estimated at 1.08 TEM fibers/cm3 for
a 15-min exposure. The maximum measured 3-hr average
concentration of 0.09 TEM fibers/cm3 was conservatively
extrapolated to a 15-min average of 1.08 TEM fibers/cm3
because the stationary mobile monitoring van near the implosion site indicated plume exposure lasted ⬃15 min because of winds. Assuming an inhalation rate of 20 m3/day,
2.25 ⫻ 105 TEM fibers would be inhaled during the 15-min
exposure period. Over a lifetime, this would translate to an
average exposure of 4.4 ⫻ 10⫺7 TEM fibers/cm3.
The 10⫺6 cancer risk level for TEM asbestos of 2.5 ⫻
10⫺6 fibers/cm3 was derived from the Health Effects Institute continuous outdoor lifetime risk estimates for combined lung cancer and mesothelioma, summarized by
Volume 55 January 2005
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Appendix
D.10 The public cancer risk from asbestos exposure near the
Bow Valley Centre implosion site from a 15-min exposure is
estimated at 1.8 ⫻ 10⫺7 and is considered negligible.
The null hypothesis that the BVC implosion will not
affect ambient air quality beyond 1 km is rejected based on
monitoring data. At 15-min post-implosion and 3 km southeast from the implosion site, 1-min average TSP, PM10, and
PM2.5 levels from the mobile monitoring van were 15,412
and 9050 and 1674 ␮g/m3. TSP and PM10 levels remained
elevated relative to normal ambient background at 80 min
post-implosion (9:28 and 9:31 a.m.) at a distance of 25 km.
TSP and PM10 were 2632 and 1358 ␮g/m3, respectively. At
42 ␮g/m3, the PM2.5 measurement was considered to be
within the range of expected background.
However, an examination of PM (particulate matter)
ratios revealed an anomaly at 80 min post-implosion that
indicates dust cloud impact extended out to 70 min postimplosion or 20 km, not 25 km. PM ratios post-implosion
up to 9:28 a.m. were very similar. TSP/PM10 ratios were
generally between 1.7 and 1.1, PM10/PM2.5 between 12.2
and 4.2, and TSP/PM2.5 between 19 and 5.2. These ratios
at 9:28 and 9:31 a.m. increased to 4.7, 32, and 90, respectively. This anomaly may be explained by the possible
entrainment of PM originating from adjacent vehicles or
trucks, such as vehicles disturbing curbside gravels. The
upwind or background PM concentrations recorded on
the drive back to the implosion site were significantly less
than those measured at 9:28 and 9:31 a.m. In addition,
the downwind TSP/PM10, PM10/PM2.5, and TSP/PM2.5 ratios were comparable to post-implosion downwind up to
9:28 a.m. and pre-implosion measurements. At these locations, TSP/PM10 were 1.3 and 1.6, PM10/PM2.5 were 4.4
and 4, and TSP/PM2.5 were 5.8 and 6.5, respectively.
The fourth hypothesis that the implosion would not
result in an elevated health risk for residents beyond 1 km
from the site, with respect to PM2.5 and other PM, is rejected. We have assumed that the 15-min exposure estimate
derived from the mobile monitor at 500 m from the site also
is indicative of exposure duration further downwind. We
also have extrapolated instantaneous monitoring van measurements to be indicative of a 15-min stationary public
exposure. With these assumptions, it is estimated that exposures above the proposed public health guideline of 920
␮g/m3 PM2.5 15-min average occurred out to 4 or 5 km.
General Air Monitoring
On October 4, 1998, the BVC hospital was imploded. Predictions of the dust that would be generated from the implosion were not considered to pose significant health risks
to the neighboring population beyond 1 km. The resulting
dust plume from the implosion was anticipated to dissipate
Volume 55 January 2005
very quickly (minutes) and within a short distance from
the site, a few hundred meters. Results confirmed the
expectation of brief public exposure, but the implosion
cloud traveled far beyond the expected 1-km maximum.
These findings are supported in part by the hospital
implosion study in Baltimore where exposure to a concentrated implosion dust cloud was brief, estimated at 20
min.11 Airborne 10-sec average PM10 concentrations
increased from a background of 0.001 ␮g/m3 to 54 mg/m3
at 100 m and to 0.6 mg/m3 at 200 m immediately following the implosion. PM10 concentrations returned to background 20 min post-implosion. Outdoor fungal aerosol
concentrations were elevated several-fold at 100 and
200 m and two-fold at 400 m. However, contrary to expectations, our measurements showed that the dust cloud
affected air quality 20 km downwind of the implosion site.
The stationary monitoring results found that 24-hr average TSP and PCM asbestos levels on October 4 were elevated at locations 4, 5, 6, and likely 7 in comparison to the
guideline and pre-implosion background measurements. Pb
concentrations at 24 hr were below guideline at downwind
sampling locations. A comparison of implosion and postimplosion measurements shows that TSP, PCM asbestos,
and Pb levels fell rapidly after the implosion likely because
of wind dispersion. The reductions would have been greater
if post-implosion cleanup activities in the area were not
disturbing the settled dust (e.g., road sweeping). The transient nature of the elevation in the levels of all contaminants and people’s brief exposure, estimated to be minutes,
meant that the risk to the general population’s health was
low. In addition, the advice given to people within 1 km of
the site to stay indoors with windows and doors sealed or to
leave the area helped to mitigate any exposures.
The elevations in downwind PCM asbestos concentrations above the guideline resulted in additional TEM reanalysis of a small subset of sample filters. Reanalysis
confirmed the presence of elevations in TEM asbestos at
downwind locations following the implosion. The downwind post-implosion TEM asbestos concentration returned to near background levels.
There is no established method by which public cancer risk to a brief exposure to airborne asbestos during the
implosion could be assessed accurately. Nevertheless,
qualified insight into this question was estimated by amortizing the exposure over a lifetime, and the calculated
public risk was estimated at 1.8 ⫻ 10⫺7 and is negligible.
However, it is not appropriate to amortize short-term
exposures over a lifetime or to calculate short-term risks
using risk factors that were developed from long-term
exposure. The primary reason is that the underlying biological mechanisms for cancer from long-term exposure
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 57
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
may not apply to acute exposures. Thus, a conclusion that
the exposure represented negligible risk based on the risk
estimate should be viewed very cautiously.
The few studies on the cancer risk of short-term asbestos
exposure are of limited quantitative value but do suggest
that such exposures should not be disregarded.10 Muller,12
in an Ontario Government criteria document for PAHs, cites
studies supporting short-term exposures as being 10 times
more effective in causing cancer than the same total dose
spread over a more prolonged exposure period. The increased vulnerability of children has been cited as a reason
to increase cancer potencies by 10⫻.13 In the context of
incremental cancer risk from asbestos exposure at the BVC
implosion site, a 10⫻ adjustment in cancer potency does
not alter the conclusion of negligible risk. However, the risk
estimate cannot be considered inconsequential given the
significance of the brief 15-min exposure to lifetime cancer
risk. The lifetime exposure average for TEM asbestos fibers in
urban areas of the United States is estimated at 0.0001 fibers/
cm3.10 The pre-implosion TEM asbestos concentrations were
⬍0.001 fibers/cm3.
Particulate Matter
The public health implications of noncancer health endpoints for the short-term exposure to implosion dust TSP,
PM10, and PM2.5 also need to be considered. Studies following the catastrophic WTC collapse on September 11,
2001, provided some insight. No measurements of airborne concentrations of the cloud created by the collapse
of the WTC were completed. Settled dust samples collected following the WTC collapse were alkaline in nature
because of the dominant influence of aerosolized building
material constituents such as concrete and gypsum.14 Although the expectation is that the PM2.5 fraction will
consist of combustion-related particulates, strong mechanical forces also can generate PM2.5.15,16 Significant
quantities of gypsum and calcium carbonate were found
in WTC PM2.5 surface dust.14 Thus, the BVC implosion
may have generated significant quantities of building material aerosols in TSP, PM10, and PM2.5 fractions.
In terms of the BVC implosion, the proposed PM2.5
guideline of 920 ␮g/m3 15-min average suggests that hypersusceptibles such as asthmatics or the elderly with compromised lung function may have been adversely affected by
exposure to the implosion dust cloud as far as 4 or 5 km
downwind from the implosion site. However, the finding by
Gavett of bronchial hyper-responsiveness in mice and the
observation of upper airway irritation of WTC workers, including wheezing, coughing, nose and throat irritation, and
bronchial hyper-responsiveness, suggests the undetermined
influence of coarse-fraction PM (PM10 –2.5), which is a PM10
component. In comparison to PM2.5, coarse-fraction PM
preferentially deposits in the tracheobronchial tree. The
58 Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association
implosion data indicate that the concentration of coarse
fraction PM is 5 times larger than PM2.5 and, therefore, more
likely to impact the upper airways. In addition, the inflammatory response in mouse lung may have been underestimated because the WTC dust used in testing may be considered weathered or aged, although the timing between
sample collection and experimentation is unclear. Freshly
fractured rock has been shown to be more inflammatory
than weathered rock because of the presence of larger
amounts free radicals on fresh rock cleavage planes.17,18
Thus, there is still concern about possible adverse health
effects from brief public exposures to implosion dust clouds
out to 10 or 20 km.
Managing Implosion Health Risks
The implosion generated levels of airborne Pb and TEM
asbestos higher than the background levels recorded before the implosion. This indicates the physical ability of
implosion forces to effectively aerosolize building materials into the air, including hazardous materials. Although
the risk to health was deemed to be minimal because of
short exposure times, it is still prudent to minimize public
exposure to asbestos, which is a known human carcinogen,10 and to Pb, which is toxic at very low levels.19
The environmental monitoring data suggest, and it is
recommended, that, before implosion, all nonfriable and
friable asbestos and all Pb-containing surfaces should be
removed to maintain airborne concentrations as close as
possible to background levels and to minimize the risks
associated with any surface deposition of airborne contaminants. Considerable effort was expended at the hospital in removing all friable and some nonfriable asbestoscontaining materials before the implosion. Nonfriable
asbestos-suspect materials not assessed or removed included plaster, mortar, and floor tile. Although substantial quantities of Pb-containing coatings and paints were
suspected, given the age of the site, Pb-suspect surfaces
were not assessed or removed before the implosion. These
residual building materials likely contributed to the asbestos and Pb content of the implosion dust cloud.
Further study is required to establish the relative public health risks of conventional demolition versus building implosion, especially for scenarios where nonfriable
asbestos and Pb-containing materials were not removed.
Conventional demolition may expose a relatively small
and localized population to lower levels of airborne asbestos and Pb but with a longer exposure time relative to the
high-level/short-duration exposures of a larger and more
widespread population of an implosion. Surface deposition of airborne asbestos and Pb may create reservoirs for
chronic exposure via tracking of outdoor contamination
indoors and children playing outdoors. The risk to health
associated with these two demolition scenarios needs to
Volume 55 January 2005
Stefani, Wardman, and Lambert
be fully characterized for informed decision-making to
occur on a preferred method of demolition.
Farfel et al.20 documented Pb dust deposition within
10 m of a conventional demolition site that was 2 orders of
magnitude above background. Public health risk from the
infiltration and deposition of Pb dust indoors was believed
to present a significant Pb exposure risk to children. The
infiltration of airborne Pb and asbestos indoors and the
tracking of outdoor surface contaminants indoors were not
assessed in our study. The removal of all friable and nonfriable asbestos and all Pb-containing materials before implosion or conventional demolition may mitigate the need for
an assessment and is a recommended action.
The finding of elevated levels of airborne PM as far as 20
km is significant. Only people within a 1-km radius were
advised to remain indoors during and after the implosion or
to leave the area. These findings suggest that the 1-km advisory zone was too small. In addition, the ⬃200-m public
exclusion zone around the site needed to be expanded in
the downwind direction the day of the implosion. The size
of the advisory zone will depend on the specifics of the
structure to be imploded and on climatic conditions at the
time of the implosion, especially with reference to wind
speed and implosion cloud dispersal. However, the potential
size of the area affected can be very large and presents
logistical difficulties on taking steps to inform and safeguard
the public. The difficulties in protecting public health in the
large downwind geographic area affected by implosion dust
clouds suggest that implosions in metropolitan areas should
be prohibited.
Air sampling conducted after the implosion indicated there
were several stationary short-term air quality issues. As well, the
implosion-created dust cloud traveled much further than expected, out to 20 km, and, thus, needs to be considered when
communicating preventive measures to the public. Furthermore, all sources of hazardous materials, such as Pb-based
paints and nonfriable asbestos, should be identified and removed before the implosion so that the airborne release of
these hazards is prevented. Problematic issues surrounding
public health protection in affected areas that could extend 10
or 20 km downwind from an implosion site suggest that implosions should be prohibited in metropolitan areas.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Alberta
Public Works Supply and Services, including the Honorable
Stan Woloshyn, Peter Houtzager, and Tim Leung; Alberta
Environment, including Kevin Pilger, George Baynard, and
Dave Bensler; the City of Calgary, including Fire Marshall
Sandy MacKenzie; and PHH Environmental Ltd., including
Chris Jodouin and John Schelske.
Volume 55 January 2005
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About the Authors
Dennis Stefani is a public health inspector in air quality with
the Risk Assessment and Management Section of Environmental Health, Calgary Health Region. Timothy Lambert is
the manager of Risk Assessment and Management, Environmental Health, Calgary Health Region. Dennis Wardman
is a community health specialist with First Nations and Inuit
Health, Health Canada. Address correspondence to: Dennis Stefani, Calgary Health Region, Environmental Health,
1509 Centre St., S.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2G 2E6;
e-mail: [email protected].
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 59