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9/11 Cleanup Continues
By Julie Scelfo,
MSNBC.com/Newsweek, January 27, 2005
As officials prepare to demolish some of the last buildings damaged on September
11, 2001, an environmental expert expresses concern about the impact on residents and
Jan. 27 - For New Yorkers living in lower Manhattan, the abandoned, black-shrouded
40-story building across from Ground Zero has for years been a reminder of how the
collapsing twin towers emitted a vast blanket of environmental contamination that may
still affect nearby residents and workers. On the morning of September 11, 2001, a falling
section of 2 World Trade Center ripped open a 15-story hole in the Deutsche Bank Building,
which allowed toxic dust and ashes to pour in. According to a damage report prepared for
Deutsche Bank in 2003, asbestos, lead, mercury, dioxins and carcinogenic PCBs penetrated
the building, snaking their way into interior stairwells, elevator shafts, wall cavities
and ventilation systems. In the months that followed, mold also proliferated, contributing
to what the report described as "a combination of contaminants
any other building designed for office use."
After a lengthy battle involving insurers and downtown-rebuilding officials, Deutsche Bank
last year sold the building to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which
plans to begin demolishing the structure as soon as possible. Although business officials
are eager to remove what many view as a tombstonelike reminder of 9/11, residents and
visitors alike are concerned that the demolition will only add to the woes of the
neighborhood, where hundreds of thousands of people work and live, including a legion of
Wall Street employees who are vital to the nation's economy. To understand the
environmental impact, NEWSWEEKs Julie Scelfo spoke with Dave Newman, an industrial
hygienist who coordinates the World Trade Center Health and Safety Project for the New
York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). Excerpts
NEWSWEEK Its been more than three years since the attack. Why is it taking so long
to deal with the Deutsche Bank Building?
Dave Newman Actually, theyre about to take down three buildings the Deutsche Bank
Building, which is now owned by the [LMDC], a building at 4 Albany Street that is still
owned by Deutsche Bank and a building called Fiterman Hall, which is part of the Borough
of Manhattan Community College. One reason it took so long to deal with them is that there
are, and there have been, disputes as to the efficacy of cleaning them up versus taking
them down. In all three of these cases, the buildings are heavily contaminated.
Would you be concerned about the demolition if you lived in lower Manhattan?
There are actually three populations I have concerns about one is residents in the area;
two would be workers in the area, who are residents during the time of their workday, and
third would be workers involved in the demolition process itself.
Why the demolition workers?
There are an array of contaminants including asbestos; lead; mercury and other heavy
metals; PAHs, which are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (combustion byproducts);
silica; dioxinI guess those are the heavy hitters. The workers have the highest
potential for exposure, and if they are exposed, they will be exposed in higher
concentration than anyone else in the community. In some ways, [those] workers are the
canaries for the community.
The demolition of any high-rise building in and of itself is a cause for concern because
of the potential for unintended releaseswhich means anything thats contained in
the building can ultimately make its way outside if its not properly controlled.
When you add to the mix the World Trade Center contamination
if I lived or worked
downtown, Id want to know this demolition is proceeding with the most stringent
controls possible to prevent any emissions to the outside of potentially harmful
Are you saying the demolitions are a bad idea?
No, the demolitions are manageable if theyre done right. My concern is not that they
cant be done, but that they be done right.
Who is overseeing them?
There are a variety of agencies involved at the state, local and federal level, including
[New York Citys] Department of Buildings, New York Citys Department of Health
and Department of Environmental Protection, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], and
OSHA [the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. As of yet,
unfortunately, theres no coordinated effort on the part of government agencies to
oversee these demolitions on a proactive basis.
It seems like there's been a lack of leadership for dealing with most post-September 11
environmental concerns. Overall, we still dont have a lot of clear answers about the
extent of contamination or which agencies are in charge of cleaning it up.
I think the response after 9/11, while it was sincere and heroic and extensive, it was not
coordinated between government agencies and not necessarily well thought out, although
well intentioned. This kind of event was not really anticipated and as a result we had
agencies either fighting over jurisdiction or fighting to avoid responsibility. The result
was a vacuum of information.
Where do you think the leadership should have come from?
I dont think theres a lot that an individual resident or worker can do. I
think the burden should be appropriately on government agencies like EPA, like OSHA, like
the Department of Health, to be prepared to conduct an aggressive and transparent outreach
effort so that people will be informed appropriately and honestly of what the health risks
could be. They need to inform people about the appropriate way to deal with dust or debris
in their apartments. That information was not conveyed at all, or when it was conveyed, it
was conveyed incorrectly. The EPA should have taken responsibility as the lead agency for
the entire post-September 11 cleanup. And again with these demolitions, they have an
opportunity to assert clear leadership.
In 2002, the EPA began addressing indoor residential spaces. Now, the contaminated
buildings are an issue. Are there still more environmental hazards that havent yet
been dealt with?
We dont know. Theres been no effort on the part of the EPA or the part of
other government agencies to coordinate, centralize and evaluate their sampling results.
That means we dont have a good characterization of what was in the outdoor air. And
because most of the indoor sampling and cleanup was done privately, we dont have
complete records of that either. So the best information or the most information that was
available was in private hands, and theres been no attempt to collect that.
What lessons have we learnedor should we have learnedin terms of being prepared for
In a catastrophe, the first people on the scene and providing assistance may well be
teachers, janitors, security guards, workers from an adjacent construction site. I think
we have to expand the population of first responders and give people like this adequate
training. [Another] lesson is that the response network and the regulatory framework that
were in place [prior to 9/11] were inadequate to deal with catastrophes of this sort, and
they still are. More attention needs to be paid to figuring out the chain of command, the
coordination and the responsibility of government agencies [for dealing with disasters],
even in the absence of specific regulations.
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