When I first heard this story on the radio station 1010 WINS here in New York City this morning, my mouth drooped open and I stared at myself in the mirror while shaving. Could this incredible story be true? According to Eric Beck (a supervisor for Taylor Recycling, a company hired to sort the debris hauled from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks), the residual powders from the truckloads brought to Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island were used in a paving-like mixture to fill city potholes and pave streets.
Beck’s sworn affidavit was filed in Manhattan Federal Court yesterday by lawyers representing the families of 9/11 victims in this matter. Norman Siegel, one of the attorneys representing the families, told members of the press this motion has nothing to do with money. The families hope to create a formal resting place for a vast amount of debris that possibly could contain remains of their loved ones, but Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York disagree with this concept at this time.
My family lost someone dear on 9/11, and nothing of Lieutenant Steven J. Bates of the New York City Fire Department was left to bury. My sister and his family agreed to have a Memorial Service for Steve, but the obvious closure that a funeral would have provided was not possible. My sister has no place to visit now and leave flowers, and it seems she never will. It is insulting to her and to all the families of victims to let them go on without knowing the truth about the remains. It is cruel and unusual punishment to suggest there will never be a proper burial place where they can go to pay respect to their lost loved ones.
Anyone who watched the horror of 9/11 unfold on television that fateful day in September 2001 knows how the buildings came down. Watching the aftermath of the collapse, with people walking the streets like the undead covered in a ghostly white powder, unsettled us all and left the nation shaken and anxious.
I know as I witnessed this I was not aware as I am now that many of the victims inside the buildings were vaporized. Their essence was subsumed by the crush of glass, steel, and concrete being thrust out from the falling towers in great clouds of dust and smoke. That chalky covering that made people living ghosts no doubt contained some of the dead, as did the noxious air they were forced to breathe. Obviously, those remains are lost forever, becoming an integral part of the city by being inhaled by those who survived and also spread in a grand brushstroke across lower Manhattan, the particles lost forever in the corners and crevices of buildings and streets.
Yet, if we follow Eric Beck’s story, there were many remains of victims that were not pulverized. He notes that Taylor Recycling’s machines uncovered thousands of human bones a day during his initial weeks on the job. “Bones, fingers, skulls, feet, and hands” were the usual findings, but there were larger discoveries as well, including one complete body “dressed in a suit.”
All of these items were handed over to the city and were used in DNA testing to identify victims; however, Beck claims that he was told to “move the job, to run the conveyor belts faster and to keep the tonnage up,” suggesting that many things may have been missed. In the end Beck saw how the job was made to go even faster when he “observed the New York City Sanitation Department taking these fines (debris powder) from the conveyor belts of our machines, loading it onto tractors, and using it to pave roads and fill in potholes.”
Needless to say, this damaging affidavit is a condemnation of how the city mishandled the almost half a million tons of debris from the World Trade Center site. To the victims’ families this insensitive treatment of what amounts to sacred ground is a devastating blow to their hopes of ever having closure or a dignified place to mourn their lost loved ones.
What does the city expect them to do in the wake of such news? Should people line the streets and leave flowers on filled potholes. The incongruity of the thought of this outrage is overwhelming, yet there is still a great deal of debris left at the Fresh Kills landfill that has not yet been combed through to find remains. Hopefully, the filing of this affidavit will not only bring an investigation of how the debris was handled but also force a new and more focused scrutiny on the debris that remains unchecked.
Is the road to infamy paved with bad intentions? Apparently here in New York, some of the roads are paved with something else. It is necessary and compelling for us as New Yorkers and as citizens of this nation to make certain that New York City’s streets are not paved with the detritus of the most devastating attack on United States soil. We must also force those in power to do everything possible to find any human remains left in the debris at Fresh Kills. It’s the least we can do for the victims’ families and for the memories of those lost on 9/11.