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Reports of Fungus Spur
By Robert Cooke, Newsday Staff Writer, May 21, 2002
It's what the military might call collateral damage. Two large
buildings near Ground Zero that suffered extensive damage in the wake of the attack on the
World Trade Center are reported to be infested with fungi. And that has prompted
discussion of what measures can be undertaken to clean them up -- or whether they
ultimately might be destroyed.
Two engineers associated with the buildings say tearing them down may
be unnecessary: That the 1907 building at 90 West St. is being cleared of debris and will
be rehabilitated for normal use. And the Bankers Trust building at 130 Liberty St., while
in need of extensive repairs, also may be spared.
The 25-story building at 90 West St. does not appear to have a severe
fungus problem, said Joel Weinstein, president of LZA Associates, an engineering and
architectural group that is part of Thornton Tomasetti Group Inc., engineers in Manhattan.
"The owners are working... to restore the building, he said. He estimated the
cost at between $60 million and $70 million.
The 39-story One Bankers Trust Plaza structure indeed may have fungal
infestation, he said, but he anticipates that repair is not unfeasible. No cost estimate
John Hennessy III, chairman and chief executive of the Syska Hennessy
Group Inc. in Manhattan, agreed: "To the best of my knowledge, they will not be torn
down. The fungal growths, being described as "black mold, have been
reported to be on walls and other interior surfaces as a result of long-term soaking from
fire-control sprinklers and exposure to outside elements. The glass-clad Bankers Trust
building was damaged when a large chunk of steel hit and ripped open a nine-story gash in
its facade. The building at 90 West St. was damaged by flying debris and by fire, and then
soaked by the sprinkler system and, subsequently, rain.
After such exposure, molds that are naturally present find conditions
conducive to growth. If the surfaces stay wet long enough, growth can spread across walls
and into places such as air conditioning ducts. There is no unanimity among fungus experts
-- mycologists -- about the potential hazards of such a mold. Most of the focus is on a
fungus called Stachybotrys.
It is one of hundreds of kinds of fungi, many of them black, and the
majority aren't dangerous. Stachybotrys, a normal inhabitant of the soil, is commonly
identified as the fungus whose spores take up residence in buildings when porous surfaces
stay soaked for several days.
According to mycologist Janet Gallup, in Escondido, Calif., the actual
danger is far smaller than perceived. She said that while extensive exposure to the mold
or its spores can cause ailments, most people are not bothered unless they are already
weak. "Asthmatics and mold-sensitive people can have worse health if they live in a
moldy place, Gallup said. Some fungi produce mycotoxins, potent chemicals that keep
other microbes at bay. The best illustration is in a petri dish, where a growing mold
sample may clear its surroundings of other molds or bacteria by secreting a toxin. It is
an original form of chemical warfare.
Joseph Laquatra Jr., professor of design and environmental analysis at
Cornell University, added that "some people who are sensitive to mycotoxins --
the fungal poisons -- because of allergies or asthma "are going to have a
problem in heavily infested areas. And, he said, "a large exposure [to
fungal toxins] can cause a nonallergic person to become sensitized and develop
Exposure to such molds isn't a new phenomenon; they have always been
present, often in large amounts. If one detects a musty smell in a basement, it means some
mold is there and it's airborne. "We've had molds around us for thousands of
years, said Estelle Levetin, a biologist at the University of Tulsa. But the problem
of molds "recently appeared to get worse because we've tightened our buildings
for energy conservation "and trapped more moisture inside. It's the trapped
moisture that "spurs fungal growth.
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