Friday, February 18, 2011

9/11 Still Ringing in Your Ears

As workers wipe the final traces of the former Deutsche Bank building from the New York Skyline, residents in the Manhattan area can rejoice in the removal of this painful 9/11 reminder and continued threat. Besides reiterating the obvious global dangers our nation faces from terrorists, the presence of this building, shrouded in protective plastic, also reminded residents of the environmental dangers resting just below the surface of some of New York’s structures. Besides finding the remains of 9/11 victims scattered over the room of the damaged building, crews also found toxins like asbestos, lead and mercury, delaying the cleanup of the structure as leaders decided how to remove these toxins.

With the EPA’s addition of the Gowanus Canal to the Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List, neighboring areas might experience a similar level of protective action. Besides the well-known toxins present in the canal itself, including industrial and sewage runoff, buildings in the surrounding area present a constant threat to citizens, especially as improvements are made that can release previously contained toxins.

Asbestos, in particular, represents a great threat when disturbed, which allows its fibers to release in the air to be inhaled or swallowed. Leading to a lethal cancer, mesothelioma symptoms can lie dormant for up to five decades. Furthermore, these symptoms generally appear relatively mild, mimicking other illnesses like pneumonia, which allows the disease to progress into its later stages before treatment is sought.

In addition to the chemical presence New Yorkers had to endure after the 9/11 attacks, over 1,000 new cases of tinnitus were reported, adding to their lingering consequences of this event. However, this condition is not only an annoyance for the victims, but an actual attack on their sanity as they attempt to overcome the trauma of an event. This untreatable condition is just one of the many consequences New Yorkers must face and is further motivation for residents to urge city leaders to make improvements in areas over which they have control, like healthy renovation.

Learning about the specific risks, like mesothelioma, these chemicals pose gives residents greater influence over the nature of renovation taking place in a community. In an area with such a unique character, like Carroll Gardens, preservation of those characteristics is undeniably essential to both its history and identity. However, like any successful community movement, without knowing the issues developers and leaders will use to justify their actions, the voice of citizens deserving the greatest share in the discussion over development will be drown out by approaching jackhammers. Indeed, city leaders and developers respect and recognize detailed petitions detailing the drawbacks of proposals and alternative suggestions.

One useful strategy is to point out the problems brought on by the demolition of older structures, as exemplified by the Deutsche Bank building. Dangerous materials, like asbestos, can permanently be contained through enclosing or encapsulating the product, providing a permanent barrier between the toxin and the outside air. As a cheaper and safer alternative, residents can point to the numerous economic and safety benefits of renovations that seek to improve the community through minor safety adjustments that don’t threaten the unique fiber of the community. By pointing out the high rate of disease, including mesothelioma symptoms, seen throughout New York after the 9/11 attacks, city legislators are sure to be open to discussions regarding how to safely restore communities while simultaneously preserving their historical integrity.