Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Before fire, toxic WTC skyscraper loomed as painful 9/11 reminder -- Newsday

Newsday.com: Before fire, toxic WTC skyscraper loomed as painful 9/11 reminder --

"NEW YORK - For years, the black-shrouded eyesore looming above the ruined World Trade Center was as painful a reminder of the wounds of Sept. 11 as the 16-acre hole in the ground just below it. Even this year, the body parts of Sept. 11 victims, toxic dust from the trade center and aircraft pieces were still being removed from the former Deutsche Bank building, the tower that no one could agree on how to remove. On Saturday, once again the skyscraper resurrected images from Sept. 11, 2001, with potentially toxic smoke and fire, fears of a building collapse and firefighters killed on the job.

The 41-story tower has been plagued by court battles, toxic contamination, work stoppages and the ongoing search for body parts since the trade center's south tower tore a 15-story gash into it nearly six years ago.

The building was untouched for several months after the attacks, becoming infested with mold from fire sprinklers while over 1 million tons of trade center debris was being removed just across the street.

Deutsche Bank AG appealed to the government and to its insurers to pay to clean up the building, which also contained toxic levels of asbestos, lead, mercury and trade center dust. After several court battles, including a $500 million lawsuit against the city, the state agency in charge of rebuilding the trade center site bought the contaminated building in 2004.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which still owns the tower, and trade center rebuilders needed the land as part of its master plan to rebuild the trade center site. Now plans call for the spot to be home to the fifth planned tower to replace office space destroyed in the attacks.

State officials have reportedly spent far more than the building's $90 million purchase price since then in a tortuous effort to remove the building. The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal regulators have cited contractors several times for violations, including how it disposes of environmentally contaminated material.

In mid-2005, contractors clearing the roof found hundreds of small bones and parts of the jetliners that crashed into the towers. More than 700 bones were recovered, the last found on a ledge in the spring.

In December, officials finally began removing the building's steel facade, beginning the painstaking, floor-by-floor deconstruction of structural steel. But a subcontractor's dispute over payment shut the site for nearly a week. In May, work stopped for another two weeks when a 15-foot-long pipe fell off the building and through the roof of the closest firehouse to ground zero, which has a wall covered by a bronze memorial to the 343 firefighters killed on Sept. 11.

Officials have been optimistic recently that the building, which had been dismantled to the 26th floor this week, was being removed with few problems. State development officials had said repeatedly that the building would be completely removed by the end of this year.

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