Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

Critics Question Safety of Plan to Raze Contaminated Site
By David A. Dunlap, New York Times, January 26, 2005

At the Deutsche Bank building opposite ground zero, a new look at hard-to-reach spaces -shafts, ducts, conduits and upper elevations of the exterior - has confirmed the presence of high levels of asbestos, lead and other contaminants, a consultant to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation said Monday night.

The findings were disclosed at a public information session where neighbors, union representatives and environmental advocates expressed concerns about a plan to dismantle the 40-story bank building, which is at 130 Liberty Street and was badly damaged on Sept. 11, 2001.

Federal, state and city regulators have not yet responded to the plan, issued a month ago by the development corporation, which will need government permits before it can demolish the building. It is not clear when exactly that work will begin.

Critics said they worried that workers inside the building would not be sufficiently protected. "Workers are essentially, and unfortunately, the canaries for the community," said David M. Newman of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit coalition including labor unions.

Paul Stein of the New York State Public Employees Federation was one of several speakers who questioned the efficiency of the emergency warning system. "If you're not at your computer or phone, you may not get the information," he said, suggesting the need for sirens, Klaxons or loudspeakers around the demolition site.

Speakers also complained about the lack of coordination for demolition projects, including another Deutsche Bank building at 4 Albany Street. Jennifer Hensley of the Alliance for Downtown New York called on the governor and the mayor to name a leader for the new Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.

"Without the timely appointment of an executive director," she said, "the command center is at risk of becoming obsolete before it is even operational."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about the lack of information on air monitoring and contaminant levels in the building's interstices, said Mary Mears, chief of public outreach in the agency's regional office.

That is not to say the agency opposes the dismantling. "There are steps that can be taken to reduce the environmental impacts from taking this building down," Ms. Mears said.

She said the E.P.A. hoped to submit its comments with those of other agencies by the end of the month.

Development corporation officials said that the "deconstruction" - a term they use to emphasize the project's painstaking nature - would be done in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and that the final version of the plan would reflect the concerns and comments of regulators and the public.

"People griping is better than people having no voice at all," said Kevin M. Rampe, president of the corporation. The Monday session drew about 60 people to St. John's University on Murray Street.

At the session, Edward Gerdts, a vice president at TRC, an environmental consultant to the corporation, discussed a detailed new study of the building, which the corporation acquired from Deutsche Bank in August for the purpose of razing it.

He compared contaminant levels with benchmarks set by the E.P.A., based either on the estimated levels of contaminants before the 9/11 attack or on health-based cleanup targets for residences. Though the benchmarks are not directly applicable to a commercial demolition project, Mr. Gerdts said, they do provide some context.

Average concentrations of asbestos, lead and silica on the exterior were found to exceed the benchmarks. Asbestos and lead exceeded the benchmarks in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning ductwork; in elevator and pipe shafts; and in conduits through the floors.

Lead and silica exceeded the benchmarks in cavities behind the curtain wall. Silica exceeded the benchmarks in cavities between interior walls. Asbestos and silica exceeded the benchmarks in the fireproofing.

Generally, Mr. Gerdts said, contaminant levels were either consistent with or lower than those found in an earlier study of surface areas around the building.

A summary of the new study is available on the corporation's Web site,



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