Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Echoes of 9/11


The tragic fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in Lower Manhattan on Saturday which took the lives of two firefighters, Joseph Graffagnino, 33 and Robert Beddia, 53, and which has already spawned a criminal investigation, highlights problems about which the community of Lower Manhattan has been warning for years.

The company hired to perform the demolition of the building whose chief claim to fame, post-9/11, was that it had been contaminated with 150,000 times the normal levels of asbestos among other toxic substances, (which have since been reduced to a supposedly safe level) has “apparently never done any work like it” — nor much of anything else since it was incorporated in 1983.

But though the John Galt Corporation has proven as elusive as the eponymous character in the Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged, which opens with the question, “Who is John Galt?” it has served as an effective front for members of Safeway Environmental Corporation whose contract had been cancelled because of mob connections. One of Safeway’s owners, Hank Greenberg, is a two-time felon who has been linked by the FBI to the Gambino crime family. And Safeway Environmental was the corporation in charge of a demolition on Manhattan’s Upper West Side when the building collapsed ahead of time, trapping pedestrians including a seven-month-old baby.

On top of this shaky foundation (not the sort one wants when demolishing a former Superfund site) the NYC Fire Department also failed to check the standpipes at the former Deutsche Bank building every 15 days as required by law. The Buildings Department maintains it conducted daily inspections of the floors under ‘deconstruction’ including on the day before the fire but it’s unclear whether anyone reported the broken standpipe in the basement which prevented water from reaching the two trapped firefighters.

Lest the reader assume that Saturday’s tragedy might result in at least a temporary show of caution, the following Thursday two more firefighters sustained serious head injuries from debris that fell from scaffolding at the site.

Shocking as all these events are, they are no surprise to the community of Lower Manhattan which initially brought to the public’s attention the shadowy connections of Safeway Environmental, protested the hiring of the equally dubious John Galt Corporation and urged the City and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which owns the former Deutsche Bank building, to put in place emergency plans both for the work site as well as for the surrounding area.

Yet when the fire broke out on Saturday, many residents received no warnings or instructions.

It is therefore particularly galling to read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal as well as a letter in the New York Times that essentially blame Saturday’s tragedy on the community’s preciousness about any remaining environmental hazards in the building. It is the community which first highlighted unsafe conditions at the site when, for instance, windows fell out of the building.

The letter, whose writer lives in Brooklyn, maintains that the community’s concern for ‘every speck of dust and every fiber of asbestos’ has delayed the demolition process and that somehow that delay caused the fire.

The Wall Street Journal piece compares the community’s arguments (which are supported by scientific expertise and legal precedent) to “the endless debate and litigation we’ve also layered into efforts to surveil and prosecute terrorists.” (That pesky Constitution again.)

The arguments put forth in these two pieces attempt to pit the interests of firefighters and site workers against those of residents, office workers and students. In fact, these populations have worked effectively together for six years and have always been able to see through and rise above the divide-and-conquer tactics of their opponents.

JENNA ORKIN, founder of the World Trade Center Environmental Organization, is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the EPA. She can be reached at:


Jenna Orkin is the author of Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases