While many Americans would like to forget the 2004 presidential “election”–with its fenced “free speech zones” and numerous arrests of dissidents–it seems that the legacy will be with us for decades. It has to do with the arrests and those who took protestors into custody, as well as the location at which those who voiced disagreement with the Republican Party platform were taken–coincidentally, a location intimately associated with one of the most infamous names in the convoluted history of asbestos. W.R. Grace & Company, currently the defendant in the case surrounding Libby, Montana, where the company operated a vermiculite mine and an asbestos operation for several years, was once the owner of New York City’s Pier 57. The structure was then turned over to the Metro Transit Authority, which used the building as a terminal until 2003. In September of that year, Pier 57 came under control of the Hudson River Trust, which is a named defendant in the current lawsuit.
It was apparent that the building needed major restoration: according to an environmental impact report, the aging HVAC system was in deteriorating condition, the electrical wiring had not been upgraded in half a century, emergency lighting was in disrepair, and poor drainage had led to the accumulation of “oily waste” materials on the ground floor. In addition, 40% of the asbestos in the building was “friable”–in a crumbling state in which fibers were released into the air. It is not known if this report was made available to the NYPD when it acquired temporary use of the facility in preparation for the “National Security Event” that was to be the 2004 Republican National Convention. What is now known is that officers and detainees alike have been suffering from health affects consistent with asbestos exposure. According to plaintiffs who were arrested and held at the facility, the average period of detention in what were toxic conditions was 33 hours. James Mahoney, a retired MTA dispatcher, said that it was his belief that “there was a cluster of cancer cases at the depot.”