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NYC Debates Post-9/11
By Heather Moyer, Disaster News
Network, February 18, 2005
NEW YORK CITY Some moments were heated and tense Thursday as the New York City Council
Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment met to discuss which agencies should be
in charge of demolishing Sept. 11-contaminated buildings.
When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, toxic dust and debris were blown into numerous
buildings around Manhattan. Numerous Ground Zero workers and Manhattan residents are ill
from breathing in the mix of toxic chemicals despite word from the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) that the air was safe to breathe days after the attacks. Several
contaminated buildings remain standing to this date.
The building at issue now is the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street,
which was bought by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) at the end of
August 2004. Heavily damaged on Sept. 11, the building has stood empty since the date due
to the damage and to the remaining toxins present inside. Those toxins include asbestos,
dioxin, lead and other hazardous materials.
The LMDC wants to demolish the building, yet community members, organizations, and public
officials are objecting to how safe the demolition plans are. The groups are worried
further air contamination will occur as the building is taken apart and want the EPA to
take control of the process.
The LMDC released the first draft of the proposed demolition plan in December 2004, and
the EPA responded in January 2005 by delaying approval until more antipollution safeguards
"In light of the EPA's recent criticism of LMDC's plan to deconstruct the massively
contaminated building at 130 Liberty Street, it is clear that the government agencies
involved have yet to put in place adequate precautions to ensure the environmental health
and safety of residents and workers in Lower Manhattan," said Alan J. Gerson, City
Council member and chair of the select committee.
Other agencies the LMDC is coordinating the demolition with include the New York City
Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), the New York State Department of Labor (NYDOL), the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation, and both the state and city departments of
"We understand that it's important to take a leadership role," said Pat
Evangelista, World Trade Center Coordinator for the EPA, adding that the EPA has in fact
taken a leadership role in coordinating the state and federal agencies involved with the
130 Liberty Street demolition. "The LMDC has said they will not proceed in the plan
until it's approved."
The city council members hammered the EPA for clarification on their role in the
demolition process, forcing back-and-forth questions and assurances from Evangelista and a
representative from NYDOL.
"Please understand that this community has been through so much and has the right to
know who's in charge," said committee chair Alan J. Gerson. "The community is
trying to understand what 'a leading role' is - what does that entail?"
"We will together be tracking the process and be involved," responded
Evangelista. "We will have EPA (representatives) on the ground when work commences
and will be tracking activities in that regard.
"The EPA is being consistent. We won't have every authority and are doing the best we
can to work with our partners."
That answer is not enough for the community members and other involved organizations who
want the EPA to follow the law requiring them to oversee the whole demolition process.
"EPA must be the lead agency," said David Newman, industrial hygienist for the
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). "Both Presidential
Decision Directive 62 of 1998 and the National Response Plan of 2004 explicitly require
EPA to assume lead agency status with regard to issues of environmental health."
NYCOSH has been working with the United Church of Christ since Sept. 11 on funding the
testing and treatment of workers affected by the toxic dust released by the buildings.
Newman added the EPA is also suited for the leadership role. "(They are the) only
agency with the experience, the expertise, and the resources to ensure that such
demolition operations are conducted in a manner that protects public health while ensuring
effective removal and proper disposal of hazardous materials."
Other council members concurred that the EPA needs to take more of a leadership role while
keeping more open communication with the public in order to restore the trust the agency
lost immediately after the attacks.
"This community does not trust you, you need to know that," said Council Member
Margarita Lopez. "We have an experience in which you lied to us. Based on that, how
do we know we can rely on you? We can begin to believe again if there's a level of
communication, a back-and-forth conversation."
Evangelista replied that the agency is committed to moving the demolition process forward.
"I'm saying that we will do the best we can in that regard. I suggest that you
continue to keep tabs on us and see."
The other agencies working with the EPA and the LMDC voiced their support of open
communication and coordination as well.
"We will be part of the process every step of the way," said Robert Avaltroni,
deputy commissioner of the NYCDEP's bureau of environmental compliance. "There is no
way the DEP and the EPA will let the other proceed without being happy. We will not have a
dear ear to anyone."
LMDC President Kevin Rampe also gave testimony before the select committee, noting that he
wants the LMDC to be judged on the ultimate result of the demolition, and not on each
version of the demolition plan released.
"We full expect comments and changes to the plan, I think that's important for people
to understand," he explained. "We recognize that we are dealing with a
He defended the EPA and the other involved city and state agencies, saying the EPA should
be applauded for taking a leadership role in the process and that each agency has its own
purpose. "Each of the agencies has their own regulatory impact and we need approval
from all of them. One group doesn't have all the say."
Rampe asserted that the LMDC demolition process will continue to invite public comment and
to remain transparent.
Issues covered in the hearing switched focus as each speaker came forward. Another concern
raised by NYCOSH's David Newman is that the 130 Liberty Street demolition only accounts
for the removal of asbestos, and "not other contaminants that are known to be
Ann Arlen, member of community activist group 9/11 Environmental Action, spoke on her
concerns about the mold in the buildings. "I'm very concerned if mold is not talked
about in this process."
Newman also wondered how other as yet undiscovered contaminated buildings in Lower
Manhattan will be handled. Linda Rosenthal, an aide from U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler's
office, read testimony from Nadler and noted a similar issue.
"There are four empty decontaminated buildings downtown - why are they all being
treated as separate projects? The EPA has to take the lead. Environmental protection is
not a spectator sport."
The building at 4 Albany Street is already being demolished. Another structure set for
demolition is Fiterman Hall of the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Other comments from the public touched on the lack of involvement from the Metropolitan
Transit Authority (MTA) regarding the risk of air contaminants entering the city's subway
system. Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law and Just
Project, displayed photos of two large subway ventilation grates located beneath the
scaffolding at 130 Liberty Street.
"The MTA has not been involved until now," said Kupferman, adding that it wasn't
until the continued calls from his office about the ventilation grates that the MTA became
involved in the issue.
Kupferman shared his frustration about the public only holding the EPA accountable for its
mistakes after 9/11. "If we only focus on the EPA, we're letting all the city
agencies get away with slow murder."
He is also worried about how the city's firefighters are being treated, noting that he is
both concerned about the firehouse directly next to 130 Liberty Street as well as the
other downtown firehouses that were never properly cleaned.
Closing out the meeting, the final speakers represented 9/11 Environmental Action. They
also disputed the EPA's honesty regarding their role in the demolition. One speaker took
issue with just how open to public comment the LMDC claims to have been thus far, saying
the LMDC open meetings don't allow the public to speak.
Kimberly Flynn said one of few positives she can see thus far is the change in LMDC's
plans since last summer. "We can say that the demolition expected to take place this
summer is vastly safer than the one slated originally for this past fall."
Fellow group member Jenna Orkin said all the wrangling over who's in charge is pointing to
a bigger reason. "What this all comes down to in the end is who gets sued down the
road - that's what the EPA is doing," she said. "What the community thinks
'taking a lead' means is responsibility and leadership. What (the EPA means) is to shirk
Throughout the hearing, Gerson made it clear that any issues brought to him by the
speakers would be investigated. "I think we all recognize the profound and potential
impact of any building demolition is on its neighbors. We know what we are doing here is
unprecedented - lives and health are at stake.
"If we mean what we say, we will all do what we can to protect human life."
Meanwhile, the EPA's World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel will hold its tenth
meeting next week, where it will continue to review and debate the draft sampling plan
aimed at further testing other city properties for remaining contamination. The panel is
also still researching a World Trade center dust 'fingerprint.'
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