Mayor’s Chinatown Jail Stopped by 9/11 Toxins? [OP-ED]

Posted on: October 6th, 2020 at 5:09 am by

The Tombs

Matthew J. Baione, Esq. is a partner in the 9/11 compensation law firm Pitta & Baione LLP. He has worked with the Neighbors United Below Canal to bring attention to 9/11 toxins exposure in Chinatown.

The year is 2020. The question before the court is whether a jail can legally be built in Chinatown. The decision: No. The reason: 9/11…?

Well, not entirely, but it may come as a surprise that 9/11 did play a significant role in the Chinatown jail decision drama that unfolded last month. Why? Because Chinatown is still suffering from the effects of 9/11 toxins exposure nearly twenty years after the attacks. Each year on 9/11, we as a city are reminded to “never forget.” This decision is a reminder that Chinatown cannot forget 9/11 even if it wanted to.

Since this publication has covered this issue extensively, I’ll keep the facts brief – the Mayor wishes to build a jail in Chinatown over the protest of the local community. A coalition of residents, area workers, and business owners formed Neighbors United Below Canal (NUBC) in response to the plan. NUBC submitted extensive commentary during the City’s environmental impact review process, which included a memorandum submitted by Pitta & Baione LLP, a 9/11 compensation law firm in which I am a partner, outlining scientific research of 9/11 toxins exposure in Chinatown. In spite of the extensive objections, the City passed its own environmental review processes, and the jail was set to be built. In response, NUBC filed an Article 78* lawsuit, and won two weeks ago.

The city already filed an appeal, so only time will tell.

In the court’s Article 78 decision to halt the proposed jail, acting Supreme Court Justice, Hon. John J. Kelley, noted that the City failed to “assess the anticipated effects upon the adjacent Chinatown community, which had already suffered significant public health impacts from fallout generated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks…even though the event occurred 19 years ago, health officials continue to discover that substantial traces of fallout remain unmediated in several downtown locations, and that both residents and first responders are still developing symptoms from the exposure.”

As a 9/11 compensation attorney, I regularly emphasize the fact that people continue to fall ill from 9/11 toxins exposure to this day; every day. In fact, 9/11 cancer rates have skyrocketed in recent years, and there seems to be no end in sight. My statements are usually met with at least surprise, but often shock. So, it is relieving to read a New York State Supreme Court decision drawing attention to the fact people are still getting sick from 9/11 toxins exposure.

Photo: New York City

Judge Kelley’s decision appears to cite the expert report submitted by NUBC which identified 9/11 toxic dust residues in a building slated to be knocked down for the proposed jail.

Think about that for a moment. Today, in 2020, scientists are STILL finding WTC Dust in the Chinatown community – almost 20 years after the attacks. Unfortunately, only those exposed between 9/11/01 and the summer of 2002 are eligible for free healthcare and compensation, but this report emphasizes the severity of exposure in Chinatown.

NUBC also submitted testimony by environmental medicine physician Dr. Judy Zelikoff noting that Chinatown is only 4,936 feet from Ground Zero, and emphasizing that “there is overwhelming evidence that individuals living/working in Lower Manhattan on or after 9/11/01 have exhibited more chronic disease in comparison to those living/working further distances from Ground Zero.” Dr. Zelikoff also pointed out that individuals who were exposed to 9/11 toxins are more vulnerable to adverse effects from exposure to other harmful substances. As an aside, the CDC classifies 9/11 toxins exposure victims in the highest risk category for adverse effects from COVID-19.

So, while 9/11 toxins exposure alone did not carry the day for NUBC, the fact it is cited in a decision nineteen years later is a staggering indictment of its lingering effects. For context, over one million tons of building debris, including over 300 tons of asbestos, burned at over 2,000 degrees for 99 days. Atmospheric scientist Thomas Cahill described the pile as a “chemical factory,” which cooked together the debris emitting new compounds into the air. There has never been a toxic exposure quite like 9/11. In fact, scientists say the nuclear fallouts at Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only events available for comparison.

Let this serve as a reminder for all readers to learn about the impact of 9/11 toxins exposure, and potential health and compensation benefits available to you. I can say firsthand that Chinatown has been historically under informed about 9/11 health issues and the benefits available to them. So besides the obvious- the Chinatown jail is halted indefinitely- last week’s decision is significant in that it is a government body, for the first time to my knowledge, acknowledging just how severe 9/11 toxins exposure is for Chinatown specifically, and how vulnerable it has left local residents and area workers.


*Article 78 proceedings allow New Yorkers residents to contest decisions made by state or city agencies that they consider illegal or arbitrary.

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