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The Toxic State of Lower Manhattan

History is about to repeat itself, though on a smaller scale. 9/11 is scheduled to happen all over again. And again, it will happen all over Lower Manhattan.

While the whole world knows about the collapse of the Twin Towers (although the collapse of five surrounding buildings that day goes virtually unmentioned) and while the catastrophic health consequences from the dispersal of toxic debris and from the fires which burned for over three months becomes obvious as more people fall ill, the world outside of Lower Manhattan is not aware that at least three more highly contaminated buildings are scheduled for demolition in the near future. The United States Environmental Protection Agency which was found by its Inspector General to have lied about the air quality after 9/11, continues to refuse to perform its legally mandated duty by taking the lead in the ‘deconstruction’ of at least one of those buildings, the former Deutschebank at 130 Liberty Street.

Hounded by Lower Manhattan residents and advocacy groups such as the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, (1) 9/11 Environmental Action (2), the New York State Public Employees Federation (3) and the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (4), the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation which now owns 130 Liberty acknowledges the contamination of the building. Tests performed by Deutschebank in preparation for litigation found asbestos at up to 150,000 times normal background levels in addition to astronomical levels of other contaminants including dioxin, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs.) In addition, the use of the sprinkler system on 9/11 resulted in mold and the bacterium which causes Legionnaire’s disease.

LMDC has assured the community they intend to abide by all city, state and federal regulations. However a deconstruction like this one is unprecedented in a residential neighborhood so those regulations do not go far enough. LMDC has hired a fleet of consultants and contractors to execute the deconstruction and related tasks such as air monitoring. According to Kimberly Flynn of 9/11 Environmental Action this leads to a patchwork effect in which “everyone is in charge and no one is in charge.”

Residents of 125 Cedar Street next door to 130 Liberty have testified to the urgent need for an emergency response plan which became highlighted a few months ago when windows fell out of the building. LMDC’s recent suggestions have included calling 911. Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project also points out that the building is next to subway grates and an emergency fan system which could potentially spread the contaminants at 130 Liberty Street to commuters.

Following 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall, a Borough of Manhattan Community College building which is owned by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and is contaminated with dioxin, is also scheduled for demolition.

The final building in the doomed trio, 4 Albany Street which is contaminated with asbestos and lead, is currently owned by Deutschebank which, being a private institution, is not obliged to engage in the same degree of public process as the other two entities. That demolition is already underway.

Other buildings downtown are also slated for demolition in the name of rebuilding and renewal. However, little is known about their levels of contamination.

1. http://www.nycosh.org/

2. http://www.911ea.org/

3. http://query.nytimes.com/

4. http://www.nyeljp.org/

JENNA ORKIN is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a potential class action lawsuit against the EPA. She is a member of the World Trade Center Environmental Organization and can be reached at: Jennakilt@aol.com
 

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

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