TriBeCa Building Collapses; Asbestos Contamination Feared

New York—The partial collapse of a building in New York City’s TriBeCa neighborhood on Thursday has some residents and health workers worried about asbestos exposure.

The building, at 71 Reade Street, was a five-story walkup that owners had intended to renovate, making it a boutique hotel. Once a historic structure, the property was vacant at the time of the collapse.

Officials say that multiple building code violation complaints had been filed against the building’s owners, many for its crumbling facade. Another cited a 15-foot-long crack in a wall, and a section of wall that appeared ready to collapse. Neighbors had issues a series of complaints with the Buildings Department, and one complaint had been made just days before the incident, alleging loose bricks and cracks in the walls. The complaint stated that the building was shaking and vibrating, and appeared unstable.

The collapse, which took place in the early morning hours, resulted in a shower of concrete and brick. A scaffolding structure was toppled by the falling debris. Additionally, smoke and debris filled the neighborhood, reminding many people of the disastrous conditions immediately following the attacks on, and subsequent collapse of, the World Trade Center in September 2001.

Now, as then, residents of lower Manhattan are worried about the possible effects from asbestos exposure. Asbestos, a mineral which was once used as an additive to concrete and other materials for insulating purposes, is highly toxic and carcinogenic when its microscopic fibers are released into the air. Without proper safety precautions and removal procedures, people can breathe in these fibers and risk contracting a disease such as pleural disease or mesothelioma. Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the soft tissues protecting some bodily organs, is currently considered incurable.

The owner of the building, Aharon Vaknin, had been accumulated fines totaling several thousands of dollars for violations at the building site. He had been ordered to shore up the unstable building, and had begun to do so when the collapse occurred.

The building had been registered as an historic landmark and therefore protected from threat of demolition, but workers must now demolish what remains of it, in addition to cleaning up debris and rubble from the collapse. No one was in the building or in the area at the time of the accident.