Volume 18, Number 3 | JUNE10 -16, 2005

Kicking up dust over new air testing plan

By Ronda Kaysen

Downtown’s air will be monitored continuously throughout the years of intense construction, Downtown redevelopment officials announced this week.

The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center unveiled an air monitoring system that, beginning this summer, will monitor the air below Canal St. for particulates until at least the end of 2008, when peak construction is expected to wane.
“We want to make sure that Lower Manhattan’s air is as good as, if not better than, anywhere else in the rest of Manhattan,” Charles Maikish, head of the command center, told residents at a June 6 Community Board 1 meeting. The center, a joint city and state agency, was created earlier this year to mitigate the impact the years of construction will have on the community.

The monitoring systems scattered throughout the Downtown area will check for particulates as small as 2.5 microns (a human hair is 70 microns). The information will be examined daily at the command center and reports will be available to the public weekly at www.lowermanhattan.info.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which suggested the idea of a monitoring plan to the center and was active in the development process, voiced concerns to Downtown Express that the final product does not go far enough to ensure the air in the neighborhood is safe to breathe.

The agency would like to see the center also check for asbestos, lead and man-made vitreous fibers below Canal St. (the plan calls for running the more comprehensive tests only near the construction sites).

“Given all the construction we felt [monitoring for toxins throughout Downtown] would provide information about what may be escaping into the community,” said Mary Mears, an E.P.A. spokesperson. “We should err on the side of caution and do a wider monitoring program.”

Under the current plan, air will be monitored for fibrous toxins at locations known to have contaminants, such as the Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St., a contaminated building owned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. that will soon be demolished. “The air monitoring plan addresses the issues that are generally associated with construction — fine particulates and dust,” Maikish said in a telephone interview.

Fibrous toxins, on the other hand, are associated with renovations and demolitions. “Those issues [fibrous toxins] are addressed on a localized basis at local sites,” Maikish said. “It should be only at a localized level because we don’t have asbestos all over Downtown Manhattan.”

Maikish’s plan was received favorably at the public meeting earlier this week, and received little criticism from the residents who attended. But harsh words from an environmental regulatory agency might impact the community’s perception of the plan.

“If L.M.D.C. wants to be credible, they should step up to the plate and do what the E.P.A. recommends,” Catherine McVay Hughes, community liaison for the E.P.A. W.T.C. Expert Technical Review Panel and a C.B. 1 member who attended the meeting, said after hearing about the E.P.A.’s reservations. The L.M.D.C. is helping set up the command center. “If L.M.D.C. wants to earn the trust of the community, they would install a good air monitoring program.”

A reverse turf war may very well be shaping up over protecting for asbestos – an E.P.A.-regulated toxin. “If the E.P.A. suspects that there’s an asbestos problem Downtown, then it’s their responsibility to do something about it,” Maikish said.

Although the E.P.A. is responsible for monitoring contamination, the command center is responsible for mitigating the construction problems that arise. And the air quality is very much one of those problems. “There is going to be an inordinate amount of construction and deconstruction activity in Lower Manhattan — that activity is being led by the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center,” said Mears. “So we feel that in their appropriate role as the coordinator of all these efforts, it would make sense for them to run this network.”

The E.P.A. has not always played the part of community champion in the years since 9/11. Residents sued the agency in 2004 accusing it of misleading the public about post-9/11 air quality. “I find it interesting that they’re piping up now,” said Linda Rosenthal, an aide to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, one of the most vocal politicians on Downtown air quality concerns. “I’m glad the E.P.A. is showing concern, but the E.P.A. should put out its own monitors. The E.P.A. should have had monitors out this whole time, that’s their job.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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