downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 21 | October 5 - 11 2007

Reporter's Notebook

City hires 9/11 pediatrician; W.T.C. work hours expand

By Skye H. McFarlane

Community Board 1’s monthly World Trade Center Committee meeting once again highlighted a mix of problems and progress in the rebuilding effort.

On the positive side, the city’s new W.T.C. Health “czar,” Jeffrey Hon, announced that the city has just hired a pediatrician to focus on 9/11 health issues and will soon be funding more studies on residents’ post-9/11 health.

A presentation by the Port Authority, however, revealed there will be 20-hour workdays, pedestrian flow issues, and extended delays on the horizon at both a local subway stop and the site of the future W.T.C. performing arts center.


City steps up 9/11 care
Following the announcement that the city would contribute additional funding to expand the free Bellevue Hospital W.T.C. health clinic, Hon met with the board Monday night to discuss the city’s health initiatives.

He announced that a pediatrician is about to join the Bellevue clinic staff — something the community has long asked for. In addition, he said, the city’s W.T.C. Medical Working Group is preparing a set of guidelines for treating children who may have 9/11-related health problems. The group is also revising the current adult treatment guidelines and both guides are scheduled to be released in the first half of 2008.

With the news that a pediatrician and medical guidelines are on the way, board member Tom Goodkind urged Hon to begin reaching out to the parents of affected children.

“It would be nice just to get that ball rolling somehow,” Goodkind said.

Hon balked at the suggestion, saying that the city needs to roll out its pediatric services slowly and quietly, otherwise the Bellevue program will not be able to handle the demand. The goal, he said, is to create clear medical guidelines so that children can be treated by their own doctors. After some discussion, Hon agreed to begin contacting local parent organizations and compiling lists of affected children, so the city can do outreach at the proper time.

“It will be my responsibility to conduct outreach, but we have to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before we can do that,” Hon said.

To seek treatment for a 9/11-related illness, residents and parents can call the Bellevue program at 877-982-0107.

Hon also demonstrated the city’s new 9/11 health Web site, www.nyc.gov/9-11healthinfo, which provides links to research data, treatment programs and info about ongoing W.T.C. construction. Visitors to the site can sign up to receive email updates when new information is added.

However, the city is now doing more than distributing 9/11 health information. Hon said that the city would be paying to conduct at least two more studies using the data collected by the W.T.C. Health Registry during its first round of surveys in 2003.

Although the registry contains only self-reported data from participants (and therefore has limits as a research tool) it has already been used to give a clearer picture of certain health conditions among first responders and Twin Tower survivors. Recent analyses, for example, showed that ground zero workers with crisis training, such as N.Y.P.D. officers, showed fewer incidences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, the city plans to use the data to see if there are correlations between types of toxic exposure and post-9/11 illnesses among Downtown residents and workers. The city will also look into the causes of death for deceased registry members, to see if there is a higher incidence of cancer or other fatal conditions. The city has committed $12.4 million through 2011 for research and “public information,” which includes the Web site.

The money is part of a $100 million pot that also includes $45.9 million for Bellevue and two satellite clinics, $33.5 million for free 9/11-related mental health and substance abuse treatment, and $3.5 million in administrative costs. Ultimately, the city hopes that the federal government will step in to fund treatment, research and victims’ compensation, since 9/11 was, in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s words, “an attack on America.”

The city is also hoping to make the registry data more useful in the future by initiating yet another push for the 71,437 registry members to fill out their follow-up surveys. The follow-ups were released in 2006 and the deadline for responses has been extended several times.

So far, roughly 60 percent of registry members have done the follow-up and the deadline is currently set at mid-December. The registry is offering the survey via mail, phone and online. Hon said the registry is also doing outreach in housing complexes with large numbers of registrants, such as Gateway Plaza, the Smith Houses and Independence Plaza. Hon said he welcomed any other suggestions for making the outreach more effective.

“The more people who respond, the more accurate it will be,” Hon said.

Residents who live adjacent to the W.T.C. site also pleaded for Hon to do something about health hazards like noise, dust and fumes that the neighborhood is currently facing during the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort.

“We don’t sleep because they are doing constant construction and this creates a health issue,” said board member Pat Moore, whose apartment in 125 Cedar St. overlooks the W.T.C. site. Moore stressed that the W.T.C. reconstruction is clearly related to 9/11. Committee chair Catherine McVay Hughes chimed in to say that residents would welcome any program that would provide them with sound-buffering windows.

Hon did not disagree with either Moore or Hughes, but said he would have to look into the matter further before he could suggest any solutions. “You have raised an important question,” he said.



Working 20-7
Residents also took their pleas about sleepless nights to the Port Authority. Glenn Guzzi and Quentin Braathwaite of the Port acknowledged that the agency’s current work along the eastern edge of the site — breaking up old concrete slabs and digging out 30 vertical feet of dirt and debris — is noisy, shaky and disruptive. They also acknowledged that while the Port’s crews strive to do their noisiest work during the day, it doesn’t always work out that way.

“We recognize that some noisy work does occur after 11 p.m.,” said Guzzi, who added that there would likely be aggressive jack-hammering for the next few weeks. The Port is pushing to meet its end-of-year deadline to turn part of the east bathtub over to Silverstein Properties so that Silverstein can build Towers 3 and 4. The Port must pay $300,000 for every day it is late.

Brathwaite said that at times between now and the end of the year, the Port will work two 10-hour shifts a day. While most of the eastern slurry wall is complete, the state-city agency is only 40 percent through the task of excavating the sites.

“It’s quite an incredible amount of soil that has to be removed,” Brathwaite said.

As the dig goes on, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner continues to do spot checks to ensure that there are no lingering human remains. The soil composition is also tested to make sure the dirt is compatible with various deposit sites outside the city.

The good news, the Port officials said, is that once the digging is done and the towers begin to go up, the neighborhood will experience shorter work hours and less noise. In the meantime, though, several board members asked why they could not be protected by sound barriers. The Port recently set up a wall of buffers along Church St. to mute the jack-hammers across from the Millenium Hotel.

Brathwaite said that those buffers would not help residents, since they can only mute sound occurring at street level. The dig on the southern side of the site, where the residents are, is well below grade — so the sound would continue traveling upward.



Cortlandt subway
Brathwaite also revealed that both the pedestrian disruptions along the west side of Church St. and the closure of the Cortlandt St. N/R train station will continue until the Church St. towers are complete in 2012. Brathwaite said the disruptions were necessary because the Port and Silverstein need a staging area along Church St. to construct “three buildings in a row, each equivalent or greater in mass to the Empire State Building.” The pedestrian problems, he said, would be lessened when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority finishes its work on the east side of Church St.

After calling the continued Cortlandt station closure “shameful,” board member Barry Skolnick asked the Port reps if they could do something about the vendors on the east side of Church St., where walking space is now at a premium.

“I’m very concerned about having them in that very narrow passageway,” Skolnick said.

Guzzi responded that he agreed with Skolnick, but that the state law prohibiting all vendors around the W.T.C. site does not apply to the east side of Church St. He added that he frequently calls the police to remove illegal, unlicensed vendors in the area, but that his efforts have often felt futile.

“They know who I am,” Guzzi said of the illegal vendors. “When they see me, they all get on their cell phones and leave — they are the only people that I can scare — but they come right back.



More arts center delays
Guzzi also had bad news for the many arts supporters on the committee. When asked when the Port would be able to turn over the site of a future W.T.C. performing arts center along Vesey St., Brathwaite started to repeat the Port’s previous 2011 prediction, but Guzzi cut him off.

“He’s being optimistic,” Guzzi said, adding that the Port would need the site until mid-2012. The site will hold the third temporary entrance to the W.T.C. PATH station until the permanent, Calatrava-designed station opens. The Port may also use the site for Freedom Tower staging. The Vesey St. PATH entrance is set to open this January.



Notification instructions
Community outrage over widespread confusion during the recent fatal Deutsche Bank fire prompted the city’s Office of Emergency Management to assume responsibility for developing a community notification system. While the O.E.M. is busy testing new systems, such as reverse 9-1-1, that could be employed citywide, the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has taken on the task of getting a temporary Downtown notification system in place.

Silver aide and former Community Board 1 District Manager Paul Goldstein announced Monday night that his office will be collecting and organizing the data for a voluntary notification list. They will then give the contact information to O.E.M., which will send out instructions via email and/or text message in the event of an emergency at any of the major Downtown construction sites.

Anyone who wishes to be notified should call 212-312-1420 or email the speaker’s office at speaker@assembly.state.ny.us with their name, address, home phone number, cell phone number and email address.

“Hopefully it won’t have to be used at all,” Goldstein said of the list.

Skye@downtownexpress.com





Downtown Express is published by Community Media LLC. 145 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10013
Phone: (212) 229-1890 | Fax: (212) 229-2790 | Advertising: 646-452-2465 | © 2007 Community Media, LLC


Written permission of the publisher must be obtainedbefore any of the contents of this newspaper, in whole or in part, can be reproduced or redistributed.