Poor Air Quality and Conspiracy Theories remain after CitiStorage Fire

Photo Credit:Seth Wenig AP


Now with flames under control at CitiStorage, FDNY and local city agencies have started the arduous task of cleaning up and assessing what remains from the damage. Yet for those managing the wreckage, dealing with complaints of poor air quality and dodging the mounting conspiracy theories rippling in intensity across the neighborhood might prove more difficult to contain than the fire itself.

Citistorage was home to many city archival records and the agencies hardest hit from the blaze were the Children’s Services Department, the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Preservation and Development. Over 100,000 city documents were destroyed from the fire. Private banks, 140 hospitals, and private customers were also victims of the flames.

Debris left after the fire


With so many important records on file in one facility, many are wondering how could a fire of such magnitude happen, and equally important, why did it take the City Health Department over 15 hours to issue a public health advisory?

Since Saturday, many residents—as  far up as Greenpoint Avenue—are reporting sickening smells, sore throats and headaches. In some cases these toxic odors are entering people’s homes and even subway cars. While the fire, which is set to smolder for at least 3 weeks (!), didn’t claim any lives, one person was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation–a condition which can cause a myriad of health concerns.

Photo Credit: Chris Hunt


It is not the same thing as burning logs in your stove,” said Michael Heimbinder, founder of Habitat maps, when speaking with the Brooklyn Paper about the poor air quality. “The volume of toxic air emissions is substantial. That is not safe air to breathe.”

Jonathan Burkan, a resident who lives nearby echoed the same sentiment.“I worked at 9/11 at ground zero helping out the Red Cross. That was the last time I have seen so much smoke and so many fire trucks…If [the smoke] is bad enough, I’m going to go to a hotel. I’ve got two small kids to think about.”

There was a lot of foot dragging before the City Health Department finally issued a statement encouraging folks downwind to keep their windows closed and report to a doctor if they were feeling sick or nauseous.

I don’t know about you Greenpoint, but taking 15 HOURS to issue a statement on common sense is far from comforting given smoke inhalation remains the one of the number cause of indoor fire-related deaths.

Considering Citistorage was one of the worst fires since 9/11, or the suspicious Greenpoint Terminal Market fire of 2006, take your pick, some residents like yours truly, are downright pissed at the Health Department’s cavalier attitude towards our health and safety. Neighborhood organization NAG, issued this petition demanding the Mayor investigate why it took so long for someone to issue a public health advisory. The group is also requesting the City take samples and monitor air-quality in affected areas, publically release these environmental findings, and implement better protocols for future industrial fire-related health threats. I signed it. I encourage you all to sign it too.

Now on to the cause of the fire itself: Many believe this was no accident. Over the weekend candid haikus were issued, twitter was flooded with comments, and the discovery of a $19.6 million bank statement certainly fanned the flames of conspiracy.

Photo credit: Rich Hunt via Twitter


Nagging questions remain, such as why a small shelf fire at the other end of the complex, ignited only an hour earlier at 5 a.m., prompted firefighters to disable the sprinklers? Or better yet, how did that small fire start in the first place? Is it related to the main fire? If it was arson, who are they and what were they trying to hide? Until the FDNY conducts their investigation, we won’t have answers, although that won’t stop the conspiracy theories from bubbling.

Some are pointing fingers towards the disgraced NY State Assembly President, Sheldon Silver. Others are sticking closer to home. If the Greenpoint Terminal Market is any proof, no North Brooklyn waterfront lot is impervious to opportunistic real estate developers at the site of a devastating fire.

And yet, despite CitiStorage’s parkland designation, as per the 2005 Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront rezoning, many residents still fear the lot is ripe for more monstrous luxury towers. Current estimates value the 11 acre plot of land anywhere from $70-$100 million dollars. Bloomberg couldn’t afford to purchase the land for his waterfront vision years ago, and a 2014 NY Times article says the City lacks the cash to buy the land now.

That brings us to a question of rezoning. How much would it take in lobby money to push something like that through? God knows Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street spent well over $500,000 on lobbying efforts. Who says after a hefty insurance pay-out CitiStorage won’t nudge city officials to follow suit?

For now we’ll just call it another wacky theory, but let’s hear what the piper will be playing when the smoke clears way for those unobstructed city views.

About Kim M

Kim is a native New Yorker, local activist and writer. When she's not writing books or playing Erin Brockovich with her Save Greenpoint peeps, you will see her whipping around Greenpoint on her bike, chatting it up with folks, and sharing stories about what it is about her hometown that makes life worth living. Follow her on twitter @kimasson or www.kimmassonwrites.com