Volume 17 • Issue 36 | February 4 - 10, 2005

Deutsche Plan must change, agency rules

By Ronda Kaysen

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation intends to respond within a few weeks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s extensive criticisms of its draft plan to deconstruct the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St.

On Monday, the E.P.A. released a critical assessment of the L.M.D.C.’s plan to raze the World Trade Center disaster damaged building, which, according to the E.P.A.’s findings, still has the “significant potential for releases of contamination.”

The plan — prepared by the Gilbane Building Company, the contractor hired by L.M.D.C. to demolish the building — “needs to be materially strengthened in several principal respects,” Pat Evangelista, W.T.C. coordinator for the E.P.A., wrote in his comments.

Joanna Rose, L.M.D.C. spokesperson, expects the corporation to release alterations to the plan for the 40-story building in the “near weeks.”

The E.P.A. pointed out significant deficiencies in the plan’s air monitoring system, the emergency action plan and the list of hazardous materials, noting the need to monitor additional toxic contaminants and include fine particles in its sampling.

Considered by the E.P.A. to be the “most heavily damaged structure remaining after the terrorist attack,” studies show that the 1.4 million sq. ft. building is contaminated with high levels of asbestos, lead, trade center dust and other contaminants.

“We fully expect the L.M.D.C. to take all of our suggestions into account and to come back with a revised plan that hopefully will meet what we feel are the needs of the people of Lower Manhattan,” said Mary Mears, an E.P.A. spokesperson. “Our goal is to make sure that whatever they do is done in a fashion that reduces the risk of contaminants being released into the environment and put into a place where the community or workers could be exposed.”

The New York State Department of Labor, the City Department of Environmental Protection and the State Department of Environmental Conservation weighed in with their own findings, noting insufficient measures taken to clean up asbestos, a D.E.P. controlled toxin.

The L.M.D.C. originally had hopes of dismantling the building in 2004 and the E.P.A.’s findings will, in all likelihood, delay the demolition process further, even if the corporation makes a speedy turnaround.

“We’ve always maintained that our first priority will be to fulfill the commitment to the community and the residents and the workers so we’re not working on a specific timeline,” Rose said. The corporation purchased the structure last August from Deutsche Bank intending to raze it. “The deconstruction will begin once we have an approved plan,” she added.

Community advocates met the long-awaited E.P.A. response with relief and calls for further agency involvement. “I’m glad the E.P.A. reviewed it [the plan] I’m glad that the L.M.D.C. said they’re going to modify the plans to the E.P.A.’s recommendations,” said U.S. Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.

But Nadler, a longtime critic of the World Trade Center disaster cleanup effort, expressed concern that the E.P.A. is not taking a more active role in the building’s deconstruction effort.

“I am unsatisfied that the E.P.A.’s recommendations are recommendations and not mandates,” he said. “The E.P.A. has the legal mandate to clean up the toxic discharges from the result of a terrorist attack. It’s their primary responsibility, they are the lead agency, and they should be doing it.”

The E.P.A., however, does not see the benefit in mandating the L.M.D.C. to act. “That’s not the way that we work with other entities and other agencies. We don’t mandate that they do things unless we feel that there’s a reason to believe that they won’t do them,” Mears said. The L.M.D.C., she pointed out, has indicated that it intends to respond fully to the E.P.A.’s suggestions.

“When we have an agency that has already said that they will do what we want them to do, why would we put our energies into finding legal means to mandate things when there’s no need to do that at this point? We always reserve that right, but there’s just no need to do it and I’m not sure if that would be a useful use of E.P.A.’s time or energies.”

The E.P.A.’s comments, although a noble start, do not go far enough in addressing the needs of workers inside the contaminated building, according to David Newman, an industrial hygienist for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a union-based non-profit group.

“I’m happy to see the E.P.A. step up to the plate here,” he said. However, “There are some things that are missing…We need additional attention paid to emergency response plans, work plans and monitoring for the workers there, and the E.P.A. does not address that.”

Paul Stein, health and safety committee chairperson for the New York State Public Employees Federation, a union representing 53,000 employees state-wide, has serious reservations about the corporation’s ability to clean up the site.

“The L.M.D.C. is deficient in all major areas. It’s deficient in the area of containment, it’s deficient in the area of removal, and it’s deficient in the area of the contaminants,” he said. His offices, with 625 employees, mostly from the State Department of Health, will relocate to 90 Church St., across the street from the W.T.C. site, in March.

“Our members would feel much better protected if the E.P.A. took overall charge of the demolition. The way the plan is set up now, there are so many different public agencies and private contractors that are involved and no one agency has the authority to enforce the standards that are necessary. The E.P.A. is the agency, which by law would have the authority to enforce very high standards if it actually took the responsibility to clean up the site.”

The E.P.A., however, insists that it is the lead agency and its actions — providing extensive suggestions for the L.M.D.C. and compiling the suggestions from the other regulatory agencies — demonstrate that.

“We are working very closely with the L.M.D.C. and the other regulatory agencies and so far the process has been working,” Mears said.

However, the E.P.A. is not the regulatory agency for all issues. The city’s Dept. of Environmental Protection, for example, regulates asbestos and the Dept. of Labor regulates worker safety.

“There are things there that are pretty far a field from what the E.P.A. has any dealings with and certainly has any regulatory authority over,” Mears said. “But that doesn’t mean that we as an agency can’t play a lead role, it just means that no one agency has all the various authorities that apply to a deconstruction.”


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