New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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No Response from Mayor to Co-op City Request to Rescind Asbestos Order

Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on February 21, 2014

Co-op City, The Bronx

Feb. 21, 2014

"When campaigning at Co-op City, he said he would relieve our pain and suffering," Stephen B. Kaufman of Alpert & Kaufman told Habitat, in reference to what he said was the $5 million the cooperative has spent annually on air-monitoring tests and abatement since 2005. "He made a commitment to help us if he got elected."

RiverBay Corp., which manages the 50,000-resident Co-op City, filed a lawsuit in 2012 seeking to stop the order, citing what it said were 86,000 tests showing no airborne asbestos — a carcinogenic fire-retardant whose use as a construction material has been highly regulated since the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. "We did a 200-page booklet with the results of testing and our experts stating there was no liability and what Co-op City was forced to be doing was unfair," Kaufman says.

The lawsuit, which says abatement costs have resulted in a 4 percent maintenance increase for shareholders, remains ongoing. Kaufman last week wrote directly to de Blasio asking for his intervention. The mayor's press office did not respond today to Habitat phone and email requests for comment.

Buckled Up

The 2005 New York City Department of Environmental Protection order, he says, mandates asbestos remediation "when tiles buckle up, which happens in about 500 apartments each year" through age and wear-and-tear, and frequently when an apartment undergoes renovation. 

However, Kaufman argues, "There's absolutely no friability, no airborne asbestos, no issue, no problem. It's perfectly encapsulated in the master glue" used to hold floor tiles in place. "Their contention," he says of the City, "is that when tiles buckle up you're exposing the master glue. Exposing the master glue does not expose the asbestos. The asbestos is within it."

The form of asbestos being used, chrysotile, "is a benign form of asbestos," he adds. Yet chrysotile — since 2002 essentially the only form of asbestos used in the United Sates — is "a strong carcinogen" for which "appropriate measures have to be taken to reduce environmental cancer risk," according to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Pathology

Because it is encapsulated at Co-op City, however, asbestos expert John Lange and former DEP Commissioner Joel Miele, commissioned by RiverBay as consultants, told the New York Post in 2012 that no abatement was necessary.

"I believe the solution is that Mayor de Blasio live up to his commitment and rescind the directive," Kaufman says. "He can do this in one second. This a whole co-op community seeking relief."


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