NEW YORK – For more than four years, the 40-story Deutsche Bank tower has stood silently at the edge of Ground Zero, a graveyard waiting to be found.
The building was searched in 2002 and pronounced clear of all human remains.
In the last few weeks, however, nearly 700 bone fragments have been found on the roof at 130 Liberty St.
Along with a piece of human scalp. And a pair of plastic wings that airlines give to young passengers.
The New York Daily News has learned that several areas inside the abandoned skyscraper have never been fully searched. Small bits of human remains are being found now only because the state is preparing to demolish the building.
While the search was suspended last week when asbestos was discovered on the roof, officials at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. say they expect that more fragments will be found when they eventually take apart the structure’s air ducts and cooling towers.
Family members who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 find themselves back where they started, waiting to see if those who died so long ago might finally be identified – and laid to rest.
“Those body parts didn’t just get there. They’ve been there for four years,” state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said last week after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the memorial at Ground Zero. “Nobody bothered to look.”
How this situation came to be remains a mystery; no single agency ever took charge of the recovery of human remains at Ground Zero.
“It certainly would have made more sense at that time that they had done a more thorough search,” said Marian Fontana, whose firefighter husband, David, has never been found. “I think it would be tough for a family to get a call this many years later.”
The building became enveloped in a toxic plume after the collapsing south tower of the World Trade Center ripped a 14-story gash into its facade.
Filled with a poisonous mix of asbestos, lead, dioxin, cadmium, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 130 Liberty was rendered useless.
The most thorough search of the structure was conducted in June 2002, by the fire department, with two teams working round-the-clock.
They checked the entire building floor by floor, and visually inspected the roof, said spokesman James Long.
However, the firefighters did not take apart infrastructure or sift the so-called ballast gravel on the roof, where most of the remains have been found in the last several weeks.
“They found what they could,” recalled Fontana, who had pressed for the search back in 2002. “They could only do a visual search. They couldn’t look inside walls and vents and infrastructure.”
No other agency stepped forward to order up a more thorough inspection of the privately owned building. The situation was complicated by the fact that at the time, the fate of the tower was tied up in litigation between Deutsche Bank and its insurance companies.
The LMDC bought 130 Liberty in August 2004, but still no thorough inspection for human remains was ordered.
About a year ago, workers inspecting the building for the planned demolition noticed that several areas in the building still contained substantial amounts of debris.
Those areas included the cooling towers on the roof, air ducts throughout the building and areas around the gash in the facade.
Last fall, workers with an asbestos removal company found several bone fragments on the roof. The city medical examiner was then ordered to monitor the cleanup.
Since then, 690 bone fragments have been recovered, according to Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the examiner’s office.
Of the 2,749 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the Trade Center attacks, 1,151 have not been identified. The medical examiner still has more than 9,000 unidentified remains, not including those found at 130 Liberty.
While the remains previously recovered at the adjacent WTC site have been carefully preserved for possible DNA identification, the Deutsche Bank site has remained exposed and unprotected since Sept. 11.
That delay could make DNA identification more difficult.
“It’s certainly not helping us that there was all this time that’s passed,” said Borakove. “But we’re going to do the best we can to analyze what we’re finding.”
Some families of victims are furious that the building wasn’t thoroughly searched years ago.
Last week, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton called on the Pentagon to send in the team that searches for MIA remains to supervise the recovery effort.
And some relatives are suggesting that the search be expanded to the rooftop infrastructures of nearby buildings.
“Really, when you think about it, it’s four and a half years later,” said Bill Doyle of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, who lost his son, Joseph, during the attacks. “Get it all done now, so I don’t have to hear two years from now that they found more human remains.”