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Still in the dark over
By Juan Gonzales, New York Daily News,
September 11, 2003
Two years after the
collapse of the World Trade Center, health officials still have no idea whether most of
lower Manhattan's commercial buildings have been properly cleaned.
In February 2002, the city
Department of Environmental Protection asked owners of 1,073 residential and commercial
buildings near Ground Zero to furnish reports of all post-9/11 environmental tests and
The city received
responses from only 354 buildings, DEP spokesman Charles Sturcken said yesterday. Of
those, 31 buildings - nearly 10% - reported hazardous asbestos levels that required
But two-thirds of building
owners did not even reply - and 18 months later, the city has not followed up.
The lack of data is
especially important now that the federal Environmental Protection Agency's inspector
general has criticized the EPA for misleading the public about air quality downtown after
In a report issued last
month, Inspector General Nikki Tinsley directed the EPA to "address potential
contamination in workspaces in lower Manhattan."
Tinsley, who has
criticized the agency's voluntary residential cleanup as inadequate, urged the EPA to
consider systematically testing and cleaning about 1,500 commercial buildings below Canal
"Any indoor spaces
contaminated with WTC dust that have not been cleaned using proper techniques will likely
remain contaminated," Tinsley warned.
Even in buildings where
owners conducted professional cleanups, removing toxic WTC dust has sometimes proved
At least three buildings
adjacent to Ground Zero, for example, were so contaminated they have yet to reopen.
Owners of the 40-story
Deutsche Bank building, immediately south of the WTC site, and Fitterman Hall, a 15-story
CUNY classroom building, insist they cannot be cleaned and should be destroyed. Insurance
companies are disputing those claims.
Meanwhile, tests at the
block-long post office at 90 Church St., as well as the Deutsche Bank and Fitterman Hall,
detected hazardous levels of asbestos, mercury, dioxins and other toxic materials that
required repeated cleanings.
High asbestos levels also
have been found in the dust of at least two office buildings farther from Ground Zero.
Take 19 Rector St., a
34-story building five blocks south of Ground Zero, that reportedly was cleaned right
In February, tests
conducted by the Civil Service Employees Association in the second-floor offices of the
Department of Motor Vehicles offices revealed 8% asbestos in dust inside one of the window
air conditioners - considerably higher than the 1% threshold city and federal health
officials use to trigger a professional cleanup.
State officials replaced
the air conditioners and cleaned the windows at 19 Rector St.
Similar problems have
plagued the landmark Woolworth Building two blocks northeast of Ground Zero. About 300
employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission were relocated there after their
offices at 7 World Trade Center were destroyed.
Last week, the Woolworth
Building's management launched a three-month cleanup of the entire facade of the 57-story
building. The decision came after tests in November 2001 and February 2003 revealed as
much as 3% asbestos in dust on an exterior window sill and high levels of asbestos in dust
inside some air-intake rooms on some floors. The results prompted the SEC to conduct its
EPA and city officials are
well aware that some buildings must be repeatedly cleaned before they can be pronounced
In June 2002, the agency
performed a test cleaning of 110 Liberty St., a five story mixed-use building just south
of the WTC site.
According to the EPA's own
documents, even after tenants cleaned their apartments, the agency found potentially
hazardous levels of asbestos, dioxin and other toxic materials throughout most of the
building. EPA contractors had to clean some apartments and commercial spaces two and three
times before all contaminants could be reduced to acceptable levels.
Given the persistent
contamination problems we know about, it is astonishing that two years later, federal and
city officials know so little about the condition of most downtown commercial buildings.
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