Observations on the Martin Tower Implosion Meeting (43)

(43rd in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.


1) Bob Novatnack (meeting moderator and emergency manager): the best thing about this implosion that the city has going for it.


3) Council members Negron and Van Wirt, who effectively amplified the views of many citizens in advocating that the mayor respond to public concern about the implosion.


1) There were no public health officials on the panel. The person from the city’s health department only spoke from the audience when a citizen demanded it. She lacked any concern for the composition of the dust, despite a medical doctor who studies dead people explaining the potential impact of cement dust on people’s lungs. When asked how we would know if the dust had a negative impact, she said epidemiological studies could reveal that in 15 years or so. How comforting!

2) Minimal data will be gathered on the chemical composition of the particles and in order to see any of the air quality data, citizens will have to request the DEP send them a file. This data should be posted on the city’s website and put in an accessible form by the city.

3) No one addressed the secondary dust events due to street/sidewalk sweeping and how dangerous and long-lasting those will be.

4) No one will do any actual monitoring of the water quality of Monocacy Creek so we know if and how the implosion will impact the water. The demolition company simply has some mechanisms for controlling runoff from smaller events that have happened throughout the last year related to the smaller building demolitions. Citizens have no way of knowing whether these capturing devices are working. We are supposed to take the demolition company’s word for it.

5) The demolition company made a rather dubious argument that implosion is safer than dismantling because no one is in the building (presumably workers doing the disassembling) and because it concentrates the dust created all at one time (vs. spreading it out over a longer dismantling period). The obvious question is “safer for whom?” My concern is the city residents, not people working for a demolition company. And please show me some data to support the absurd claim that dust created from dismantling is in aggregate equivalent to dust created from implosion. If you are creating the same amount of dust, you are probably not doing a very good job at your dismantling.

6) The city encouraged viewing the implosion as spectator sport until there was public outcry.

7) The city failed to convey the precautionary message to stay inside during and after the implosion, until the public meeting, when the demolition company’s equivocating on the issue was finally addressed with a clear statement.

8) It is blatantly obvious that the implosion is being done to save the developers of the property money at citizens’ expense.

9) Why has an implosion even been planned when a blast permit has not yet been issued?

10) Many people are not upset about how the city is handling the implosion but, instead, with how the city is managing the property’s use. It was rezoned to benefit the property owners, and will be destroying an iconic part of our city’s history, only to replace it with traffic causing generic luxury housing and retail that competes with existing local businesses. The word “travesty” was appropriately used to convey the city’s failure.


Gadfly invites other observations from followers who attended the meeting. They don’t necessarily have to be lengthy, for Gadfly will compile shorter ones.


3 thoughts on “Observations on the Martin Tower Implosion Meeting (43)

  1. I was unable to be at the meeting last night, but I agree wholeheartedly with these points. It’s reassuring that the city is no longer boosting this as a spectator event.

    The study from the European Journal of Scientific Research [cited by Gadfly a couple of days ago: ‘An Evaluation of Buildings Destruction Technique and Its Menace’] makes clear that it is much easier to control the dust from slow demolition and that deconstruction is much better from an environmental and public health point of view — even if these processes produce the same amount of dust, which is questionable at best. And, as Breena noted, residents don’t have the benefit of protective gear that workers would have. And the cost could even be LOWER than the combined total of the implosion, the public safety services, the immediate cleanup, plus the cost of removal of hundreds of tons of dust & debris.

    I haven’t heard or seen any indication that the city or the contractor has considered the long term impacts of silica and other fine-particle pollution.

    Based on my experience with street sweepers, they rarely use enough water to control the dust to which pedestrians are exposed — and will the contractor sweep (or pay for) all sidewalks & parking lots to be swept. How about dust that falls on people’s lawns & gardens? (Or the compost center, which Breena has mentioned before.)

    Some studies have shown a fallout zone of 10km or even 20km. Have the citizens and municipalities within a 20 km radius been warned? (Depending on wind conditions, that could extend as far as Phillipsburg, Nazareth, Coopersburg, Dorney Park or beyond!) It is unlikely that larger particles, or even PM10, would travel this far, but smaller particles could.

    P.S. — I also agree that Bob Novatnack is probably the best person the city could have for this.

  2. I am glad I attended all three meetings. One at my office, the city hall stakeholders’ and the 6pm public one. While I continue to be grateful for the efforts to assist in minimizing dust infiltration to my office, I still believe there should have been an earlier offering of accessible information about the implosion. Preparedness and potential impact implication sooner than 10 days prior, could have saved me much time, energy and worry. Data to allay all our concerns should have been posted way in advance. I for one have had the upcoming implosion as my primary focus; for 8 weeks I’ve been calling various agencies, collecting bits and pieces of eye opening info. And also many dead ends. Yesterday’s public information meetings finally helped clarify many of my concerns and questions, although some long term health, air and water assurances weren’t really made with a thunderous promise. The final phrase I heard was ‘well, it’s a done deal’. True. And now we must look to making smart choices for ourselves and our community as the professionals do all they can to make this implosion come out with the safest outcome possible. What can we do now? Stay involved if you have a concern. It takes a village, and we’ve all learned something from this. Our city government needs to keep hearing from us. Our voices and votes, not private sector dollars, should always be loudest and carry the most weight.
    So, windows and doors closed, tape up, and fingers and toes crossed for an incident-free 5/19, and to quote Tiny Tim,
    God bless us, everyone!
    PS since I just learned our air quality is getting poor grades, what are we doing about that? How can we each individually make a positive impact? Let’s keep THAT conversation going..

  3. Just a couple of things.. Conventional demolition isn’t any less safe than explosives demolition. The facts don’t bear that out one bit. In fact the opposite is true. You can look at the number accidents from explosives demolition v. conventional demolition and the number of man hours worked. There’s been at least 8 or so workers in the past year that have been killed while preparing a building for implosion just look at the Didcot Power station incident for example. Heck, when the imploded the Sheraton in Bal Harbour, Florida the owner of the company’s daughter was several thousand feet from the structure and still got hit in the head by a chunk of flying debris. It almost killed her. I thinks she said she got something like 60 stitches.
    With a conventional approach to demolition water can be used at the source to palliate the dust and any workers exposed to what little if any dust that is left are required by OSHA to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    The problem is that he reads from a script. He can’t deviate from that script. 99% of the time he’s never challenged on it. Which brings up another Red Flag. On a project of this size why didn’t one of the firm’s principal attend these meetings?I guess they need the plausible deniability that they get from sending a contract employee.

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