Neighbors Worry About Toxins from Building Next to WTC Site

August 26, 2007

Panicked residents fear a partially dismantled building where a recent blaze killed two firefighters and stripped away protective coverings may be releasing some of the toxic contaminants that blanketed the neighborhood on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some experts, however, aren’t so sure.

The Aug. 18 blaze at the derelict former Deutsche Bank building began on a floor layered with asbestos, lead, mercury and other toxins blown in when the World Trade Center collapsed just across the street, even tiny bits of human remains. Demolition crews have reduced the 40-story tower to 26, but about 15 of those floors had yet to be cleaned, and the fire exposed some of those floors to the elements.

“I try not to dwell on the possibility of dying from this stuff or getting sick, said Kathleen Moore, who stares at the building from her 10th floor apartment next door. “Toxic debris was burning in there. … It’s twice as bad as it was before.”

But hundreds of air samples from a dozen monitors posted around the building before, during and after the fire haven’t shown contamination that exceeds federal limits called “target levels.” More than 300 tests for asbestos have been negative, according to private analysts hired by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the government rebuilding agency that owns the tower and is heading its cleanup and dismantling.

Paul Lioy, a Rutgers University professor who has studied air quality near ground zero since the terror attacks, said the dust in the building is not substantial enough to pose a serious health threat.

“To get that layer of dust outdoors would take an awful lot of wind,” said Lioy, the deputy director of the Environmental Occupational Health Sciences Institute, affiliated with Rutgers.

Any dust that did escape through the now-open windows would be diluted, he said. “Then you’re asking it to come through the windows and into their homes, and it’s not a very large source.”

Environmental advocates are skeptical.

“We think that there should be something showing up in these samples,” said Kimberly Flynn, co-coordinator of 9/11 Environmental Action. “This was a big fire. Black smoke was billowing off of that building, as everybody could see and everybody could breathe.”

Thousands say they have been sickened by exposure to the dust created by the towers’ collapse. Lawyers suing the city attribute over 100 deaths to exposure. Moore said has had bad bouts of bronchitis a few times a year since the terror attacks brought down the trade center towers.

Moore said the building should be resealed as quickly as possible, then taken down carefully.

“I don’t care if it takes 100 years to do that,” she said. “I don’t want another disaster happening.”


Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.


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