Co-op City wants asbestos relief

Co-Op City was built with traces of asbestos in the glue that holds floor tiles in place. The complex is now under a costly mandate to remove the asbestos when the tiles come loose, although asbestos has never been found in the air.
Photo by Patrick Rocchio

A Co-op City lawyer is hoping the new mayor will save the complex from costly asbestos abatement.

The signs may be good, based on his past comments as Public Advocate and his recent response to a local assemblyman.

Residents have been pushing for relief from a mandate that requires the abatement because the complex was built tiles with glue containing traces of asbestos, despite the absence of asbestos in the air.

The removal program has been hitting residents at the mega-complex in the pocket for millions of dollars annually, and Mayor Bill de Blasio seems sympathetic to Co-op City’s cause.

When Assemblyman Michael Benedetto asked de Blasio about waiving the mandate during a mayoral visit to Albany in January, de Blasio mentioned that he had previously raised concerns about the issue, and said he will again. The mayor told Benedetto he will direct the new health commissioner to review the policy and look for ways to provide relief for Co-op City residents.

“I’m very concerned that it may be an undue mandate, and a costly one, so we’re going to reevaluate that quickly,” de Blasio said.

“I’m delighted that they’ve had an exchange,” said Riverbay Corp. lawyer Steve Kaufman. “But we can’t wait any longer, we’re going broke.”

Kaufman is representing Co-op City in a lawsuit against the mandate filed in 2012.

Kaufman said the asbestos removal procedure, which takes place when tiles buckle from leaks and need to be replaced, has cost the tenants about $5 million annually in extra labor costs plus air testing. Kaufman said each time the tiles must be replaced, a special crew works in hazmat suits and tents, despite the fact that the asbestos is “perfectly encapsulated” in the glue.

Kaufman noted in a recent letter to the new mayor that since the asbestos was detected – only after burning the glue at extremely high temperatures – none of the more than 75,000 air monitoring tests conducted ever found airborne asbestos.

“Not one worker or any resident of Co-op City has ever complained of any ailment caused by exposure to asbestos,” Kaufman stated.

Kaufman also complained that Co-op City has been singled-out with the mandate when other buildings containing the same tiles have not been forced to remove them.

“Why is Co-op City forced to spend millions of dollars per year for unnecessary work?” he asked de Blasio.

Kaufman’s plea also reminded the mayor of a letter he wrote as Public Advocate to the commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection more than a year ago, asking for the department’s proof of dangerous asbestos in the complex.

“I remain concerned that on the basis of inadequate evidence the Department of Environmental Protection has placed onerous and unnecessary obligations on the tens of thousands of Co-op City residents,” de Blasio’s letter read.

Kaufman hopes the mayor will act on his words and provide tenants with some relief – “This is a middle-income co-op in a poor borough that the city is strangling.”

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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