I was invited to a community meeting in lower Manhattan, for people who had lived and worked in the area before/during September 11th.
It was a smaller group than I expected, and judging from the comments, I could tell that a couple were lawyers, one was a scientist, another was either a doctor or other health-related expert, some were local residents, and some were representatives of perhaps local government, or some businesses, or maybe a union or two.
The trouble started when they hit item 3 on the agenda (formerly item 4 but they were doing me a favor), environmental issues. A sweet looking older lady stood up and told us that the week before, a fifteen foot steel pipe had fallen from the Deutsche Bank building, shot through the 6-inch thick concrete roof of the fire department next door, then crashed through the next floor, made a hard right and embedded itself in the wall. Two firefighters were injured, and the street she lived on was shut down. She couldn't get to her home without an orange hard hat (God help her if her hard hat were blue or white, I suppose).
"Guess what they did to fix the fire house roof," said a lawyer sitting next to me. "They put up a sidewalk shed."
"Yeah," said someone else, "because a piece of plywood is much stronger than six inches of reinforced concrete."
I was surprise that some of the attendees actually started to laugh.
"Can't we do anything about this?" said the lady, a little desperate.
"Right," (the lawyer) "The site's run by the Gambino crime family, what can you do?"
A guy who seemed to represent the workforce spoke up: "But there's a clause in their contract that forbids them to engage in mafia dealings on the premises!" (more laughter, as he showed us the clause that shows the Gambino (Safeway) subsidiary, Gault, is barred from acting like Gambinos.) "LMCCC even has pictures of the site on their Web page, showing the violations, like they're proud of it!" (holds up pictures. More laughter.) [note: the photos he was showing us were off the web site as of the middle of last week.]
"Well, can't we get the board to fire them?" (More laughter)
"The board is full of their friends!"
"Then we should get the governor and mayor to fire the board!" (more laughter)
"They appointed everyone on the board. Look, as (name left out) said last time, if you want to hire a contractor in this city, you're either going to get a firm with an Italian last name, or a big national firm-- like Halliburton!" (rest of audience laughs even harder.)
"well," says the defeated sounding lady, "Would OSHA help us?" (Pandemonium. She shuts up.)
The labor guy says, "I've personally looked at what's now thousands of pages of data on that building, and according to every test that's been done, there are no hazardous materials in the site." (Astonishment. Everyone here knows that there were bones and body parts being found in there on a daily basis, that the roof had been torn apart by the collapse of the trade center, and that all the airborne pollutants (asbestos, silica dust, human dust, smoke, jet fuel and so on) had rained down into the place just like the rest of the area.)
Now it's my turn to get up. I tell them my son's story, briefly, and refer them to the resolution they had just drafted, regarding PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in the WTC plume, you know, carcinogens. Even if there's no causal relationship, I tell them, if there's an uptrend in responders, there's going to be a similar uptrend in residents, and that means people will need to be educated about the symptoms. A week's delay can mean life or death with APL.
The lawyer stands up and gives a rousing, self-aggrandizing speech urging political action to force the state to do autopsies on everyone who dies in the downtown area, to find out who had undiagnosed leukemia. An aging neighbor with an oxygen line in his nostrils agrees and argues for an ACTUP style response. The lawyer says, "And our slogan should be "Don't bury the evidence!" And the old man says, "bodies are dropping!!"
Jesus. I'm sitting right next to you, assholes.
All I wanted was to encourage community groups to educate the people in their neighborhoods about the symptoms of leukemia, to get tested early and often, to save lives and to make sure that the recorded incidence of leukemias is as accurate as possible, to help us with government funding and education. All I wanted was to protect other families from losing their Jesses. What I got was an ugly picture of what happens when dozens of well meaning folks have been banging their heads against a brick wall for six years. What choice do they have? I don't know that I can do what they're doing.
The very next day, Community Board One passed a vote of confidence in the demolition process at Deutsche Bank. What the hell?