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'Unacceptable situation' in NYC

Protesters shouted, "What do we want? Cleanup! When do we want it? Now!"

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW YORK CITY | May 9, 2006


"We're encouraging the EPA to become even more aggressive."

—Kimberly Flynn


Protesters shouted, "What do we want? Cleanup! When do we want it? Now!" in front of the headquarters of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Monday.

The activists and community members were protesting the demolition plan for the 130 Liberty Street skyscraper in Manhattan, a building severely damaged during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) owns 130 Liberty and is planning the demolition.

The community has long criticized the LMDC demolition plan for 130 Liberty Street, saying it's a poor plan that does not properly account for the massive contamination inside the building caused by the toxic cloud of dust released on Sept. 11.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler also joined the protest and spoke about what he calls "the inept manner" in which LMDC has handled the demolition.

"What makes this building so scary is its contamination with (World Trade Center) dust, a toxic cocktail of asbestos, heavy metals, PCBs, and other hazardous substances," said Nadler, the Congressional representative from New York's 8th district.

"It is beyond comprehension and an absolute failure of the public authorities charged with taking it down that so little progress has been made since September 11th. And whatever progress has been made is marred by unnecessary secrecy, bad judgment, and incomplete disclosure of crucial information to the public and to regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, demolition of this building has been and continues to be plagued with poor planning, questionable contracting practices, dangerous work conditions, and apparently shoddy performance by the prime contractor and its subs."

Nadler and others have heavily criticized LMDC's demolition plan and choice of demolition contractors since the company bought the building in August of 2004. The groups argue that LMDC has not taken into account public comments on the demolition and is trying to alter demolition plans without approval from the correct agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also been at odds with LMDC over the demolition plan several times as well, recently stopping work at 130 Liberty Street due to the "improper cleaning of the roof." The EPA also slammed the LMDC in early April for altering the demolition plan and not having the changes approved by the regulatory agency. The EPA also stopped the demolition work twice in March - once due to exceedances in silica in the air and another time when a worker was seriously injured after a fall.

LMDC has two phases set for the demolition of 130 Liberty Street, with Phase 1 being the cleaning of the contaminated sections and Phase 2 being the actual disassembling and demolition of the building. Controversy arose in the past two months when EPA officials expressed concern over changes made to the Phase 2 plans originally agreed to in September 2005.

In a letter from March 2006, EPA World Trade Center Coordinator Pat Evangelista stated that "As you know, it is our view that LMDC is now planning a deconstruction which apparently has significant differences since our review and acceptance of LMDC's abatement plan last September."

After more letters about Phase 2 were exchanged between the EPA and LMDC, Evangelista sent another letter in April expressing concerns over the continuing differences. He noted that the "EPA and its regulatory partners have not been provided with sufficient details about these proposed engineering changes to evaluate them fully.

"(The) EPA's principal objective in assessing the Phase 2 structural deconstruction plans is to identify instances where safeguards must be strengthened for the prevention of releases into the environment of hazardous substances and contaminants that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to worker and public health and the environment. Our regulatory team wants to reiterate that work on the structural deconstruction of 130 Liberty shall not commence until such time as the regulatory team has agreed that LMDC has provided them with an acceptable plan for such work."

LMDC responded with a message of its own, stating in a public email that the deconstruction work had not been delayed, but rather that the agencies were all working together to evaluate the plans. "In recent days, you may have read or heard news accounts claiming that a disagreement between LMDC and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying the deconstruction of 130 Liberty St," said Michael Haberman, LMDC's Vice President for Community Development. "We want to assure you that this is not true and that the project remains on schedule for completion in the spring of 2007."

Haberman reiterated that the EPA and other regulatory agencies approved the deconstruction plan back in September, but also noted that some changes had been made and are now being reviewed.

"In addition, more detailed plans have been developed for Phase II, which is scheduled to begin in June. These plans are under review by the (New York) Department of Buildings in consultation with EPA and other regulatory agencies. EPA has, in fact, asked for more details about the techniques that will be used during Phase II. We are now working with EPA and the other regulatory agencies to address any remaining questions and concerns in a manner that ensures the health and safety of the community and the workers."

In addition to the ongoing discussion between the EPA and LMDC over Phase 2, community activists are now worried that the current demolition contractor for the project is not qualified to deal with asbestos removal. "Our concern is very high - this is a completely unacceptable situation," said Kimberly Flynn of 9/11 Environmental Action, who applauds the EPA's actions in response to the LMDC demolition.

"We think the EPA understands the seriousness of the questions here. They understand the community's right to be informed. We're encouraging the EPA to become even more aggressive."

Jonathan Bennett agreed. "The next step is to keep the pressure up," said Bennett, director of public affairs for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "(The LMDC) has closed the curtain on public input, so now we have to depend on the EPA even more than before."

Nadler echoed the sentiment during his speech at Monday's rally. "We simply cannot take a business-as-usual approach to this challenge. The fact is, demolishing a 40-story building as contaminated as this one in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood has never been attempted.

"The fact is that taking down the scariest building in New York requires the best possible planning, the most experienced and responsible contractors, and the most open and transparent process possible. Everyone is eager to see this eyesore removed from the city's skyline, but we must not sacrifice public health and safety on the altar of expedience."


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More links on September 11 2001

More links on Technological Disasters

 

Related Links:

Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

EPA World Trade Center website

9/11 Environmental Action

New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

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