Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

9/11 Relic's Legacy of Health Fears
By Ray Sanchez, Newsday, January 10, 2005

A No. 1 train rumbled beneath the environmental disaster known as the Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan yesterday.

A young couple sat in the rear of the second car, the man with his right arm around the woman, she with her hand on a blue-and-white stroller carrying a sleeping child. Nearby, amid the steel-on-steel rattle, a teenage girl fiddled with her Palm Pilot. A middle-age man across from her sat reading a copy of "Charlie Wilson's War The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History."

On the street above, immediately south of Ground Zero, sits the monolithic 40-story tower at 130 Liberty St., shrouded in black netting - a grim monument to the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

A fence stands around the 1.4-million-square-foot building, unused since Sept. 11, 2001. Security guards watch for intruders. The round-the-clock buzz of electronic sensors sampling the air quality can be heard above the subway grates on Greenwich Street.

Around the corner, beneath what may be one of the most polluted places in the city, is the subway's Albany Street Fan Plant #7237. The two 200-horsepower ventilation fans, located below the sidewalk outside the Deutsche Bank building, would be used to pump fresh air into the subway during a fire.

"A combination of contaminants known to be hazardous to human health, unparalleled in any other building designed for office use, permeates the entire structure," said a damage report prepared for the building's original owner, Deutsche Bank. These include asbestos, lead, mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and World Trade Center dust.

And you thought the subway air was bad.

With the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. set to begin cleaning and contaminant removal in the coming weeks in advance of the tower's demolition, it remains unclear what, if any, steps are being taken to protect subway riders from exposure.

"You have to remember, the state's the landlord here," environmental lawyer Joel Kupferman said the other day.

Immediately after 9/11, Kupferman was one of the few people to challenge the federal Environmental Protection Agency's assurances there was no health threat to the public from pollutants dislodged by the World Trade Center collapse. He was right.

The EPA failed to warn people involved in clean-up efforts of the dangers. Kupferman believes the policy reflected the political desire to downplay the effect of the attacks and move ahead with rebuilding.

Last month, the EPA rejected state and federal requests to monitor the building's demolition and rejected an agreement to coordinate the razing of the building with various government agencies.

But Amy Peterson, the LMDC official overseeing the demolition, said Friday that the building will be cocooned and taken down painstakingly. Wrecking crews will enclose the structure, with the potentially toxic materials bagged and removed to prevent release into the air. Pumps will create negative air pressure to isolate the contaminants within the enclosed areas.

"We're going to work with the closely and the surrounding community," Peterson said. Talks with the MTA, she said, commenced about a month ago.

"There's just absolutely no way that anything could end up in the subway system," LMDC spokeswoman Joanna Rose said.

LMDC demolition plans, posted on its Web site, make no mention of protecting the Albany Street fan plant or the subway gratings along Greenwich Street. A New York City Transit spokesman said the agency was discussing demolition plans with LMDC officials. An MTA spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Dr. David Carpenter, of the Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY Albany, said it will be virtually impossible to bring down the building without releasing dust into the air.

"When you've got something that draws air into the subway system you know damn well it's going to draw everything that comes out of that contaminated building," he said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the Deutsche Bank building was hit by an entire section of Two World Trade Center, opening a 15-story gash and almost instantly destroying 158,000 square feet of floor space. Two bank employees were killed.

Buffeted by debris and tornado-force winds, the building lost 1,700 windows, sending clouds of dust into every nook and cranny of 130 Liberty St. A 20,000-gallon diesel-fuel tank in the basement ruptured and burned. Water used to combat the fires helped mold to spread throughout the building. Water systems were contaminated with high counts of Legionella pneumophila bacteria.

"As far as we know, no one is doing testing of possible penetration of contaminants or water into the subway system," Kupferman said.

"This is going to have long term, very adverse consequences for individuals," Carpenter warned. "It's also going to have long term, adverse consequences for the city because there is going to be litigation."



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