Deutsche Bank Building Continues to Generate Controversy at ‘Ground Zero’

The now infamous black skyscraper was once an integral part of the Wall Street financial district standing in the shadow of the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). Then came September 11, 2001 and, from that day on, all references to the Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street have had disturbing implications.As the south tower of the WTC collapsed, the debris from that massive structure crashed into everything in the surrounding area including other smaller buildings. One of the most striking images from that catastrophe was the 40-story Deutsche Bank building being ripped open and laid bare by a huge section of the south tower as it plummeted to the street below.

When the debris settled, lattice-work steel panels of the fallen south tower protruded from a 14-story gash in the Deutsche Bank structure like a giant silver fork sticking.

At first there was the fear that 130 Liberty Street would collapse as a result of the serious structural damage it had suffered. The building, however, would not go down, and as firefighters fought to extinguish the many fires in the area, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water poured into the smoldering wreckage along with tons of toxic dust and debris.

In the ensuing months, it became obvious that, by not collapsing, the Deutsche Bank building presented an environmental and safety hazard to the surrounding area. Among the problems that needed to be addressed were asbestos contamination, toxic mold growing inside the building, large amounts of toxic dust in and on the structure, and the possible presence human remains on the site.

At various times, and while insurance claims were debated, the building alternated between a reclamation project and a demolition site. Was it possible to save the building? Was it worth saving from a financial standpoint? Should it simply be torn down? What dangers were posed by the demolition of the building in a heavily populated area of tightly packed skyscrapers? Had recovery efforts successfully retrieved all of the human remains on the site?

Once it was decided that the building would, in fact, be dismantled, the site needed to be decontaminated and all toxic materials removed. That $52-million project has continued but hardly without additional problems and controversy.

The inside of the building remains contaminated with large amounts of toxic dust and the final demolition plan has yet to be approved. It was believed, however, that the roof area had been cleared of all asbestos and human remains. That turned out to be far from the truth.

Within the past few weeks hundreds of bone fragments have been found and, now, it has also been discovered that the roof area still contains asbestos-contaminated dust in places that had been thought to be safe. Cleanup and recovery workers had been working in these areas without respiratory equipment for quite some time.

The discoveries bring into question the competency and safety of the decontamination and recovery work being done and the adequacy of the supervision and monitoring practices in place at the site as well as in the entire area around “Ground Zero.”

Work was stopped when federal (EPA), state (Labor Department), and city (environmental agencies) found the asbestos contamination. The agencies will now examine the way in which the work has been done and how it can be better monitored in order to ensure the safety of the public as well as the workers who are performing the cleanup and recovery work.

Families of the 9/11 victims are also outraged by the rather belated discovery of human remains and question the thoroughness and even the sincerity of the recovery efforts. Many of the survivors wonder if bone fragments and other human remains have been lost forever due to improper investigation in and on the Deutsche Bank tower.

Many agencies and public watchdog groups will now be scrutinizing the cleanup efforts in and around 130 Liberty Street to make certain that procedures are in place to ensure that no further safety violations occur and that recovery efforts with respect to human remains are conducted more carefully.

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