Martin Tower — one year later

logo Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower  logo

It was just recently that a follower remarked to Gadfly that a year ago some of us were worried about pernicious fall-out from demolition silica.

And now . . . pandemic.

from Christina Tatu, “One year later: Martin Tower implosion drew cheers and tears as iconic skyscraper came crashing down.” May 19, 2020.

It was one year ago when thousands of spectators from around the Lehigh Valley gathered to watch the implosion of Martin Tower, Bethlehem Steel’s world headquarters, which for 47 years reigned as the Lehigh Valley’s tallest building. The 21-story, cruciform building came crashing down at 7:04 a.m. May 19, 2019.

“At the end of the day it was a successful demolition and was a symbol of Bethlehem’s past. We are certainly very appreciative of everything Bethlehem Steel has done for the city and now it’s time to move forward and develop that tract of land,” Mayor Robert Donchez said Monday. A year later, the site at 1170 Eighth Ave. continues to be cleared.

At 53 acres, it’s the largest developable tract of land in the city, Donchez said. It’s also in the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, which allows developers to use certain state and local taxes to pay off construction loans.

The developer, HRP Management, received a waiver from the state to continue work at the site despite the statewide shutdown, Bethlehem Director of Community and Economic Development Alicia Miller Karner said.

City planners narrowly approved a master plan in April 2019 that calls for the 53-acre site to be developed into a trio of office buildings, a gas station and convenience store, a 132-room hotel, a restaurant, and up to two retail stores. There would be another 528 garden-style apartments rising three stories on the other end of the property.

It’s not clear when construction might start, though Donchez said city officials are in regular contact with the developer. The city has yet to receive any land development plans, Karner said. Phone calls to HRP Management were not returned.

So, yes, there will be another go-round about specific plans for the site.

Gird you loins, so to speak.

And then there’s the question of waivers

logo Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus logo

Ok, so we know Martin Tower has been a sore issue.

So Gadfly thought it was a great observation by a follower that the health hazard some of us were worrying about there last year at this time seems so insignificant now.

Great perspective.

But Martin Tower remains a sore issue.

Work continues at Martin Tower during this shut down.

Gadfly followers noticed, some out of detached wry cynicism about special privilege having its privilege, others miffed that their incomes were snuffed because their employers were shut down. How is Martin Tower construction going on when my construction job is shut down?

Gadfly inquired of the City. Director of Community Development Alicia Karner acted promptly, sending an inspector to the site. Karner said work at Martin Tower at the beginning of the shut down was associated with logging and landscaping, both activities deemed essential by the Commonwealth. So far so good. But this time the inspector noted additional activity, beyond logging and landscaping. Karner’s office asked for a copy of a waiver from the state by today or the work would be shut down. The waiver was produced. The work is permitted. There is no indication why the waiver was permitted by the state.

(A tip o’ the hat to Ms. Karner for prompt action!)

Now about rationales for waivers, this article in today’s Morning Call is instructive:

Cynthia Fernandez, “There’s no timeline to release list of Pa. businesses that received coveted coronavirus waivers, top official says..” Morning Call/Spotlight, April 23, 2020.

More than a month after the process was first announced, there is still no timeline for when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will release the list of Pennsylvania businesses that received coveted waivers and were allowed to reopen during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.

During a hearing Thursday, members of the Republican-controlled state Senate lambasted the secretive nature of the waiver process, arguing that the state was deciding the fate of businesses without providing any transparency, leading to confusion and inconsistencies even among businesses in the same industry.

“With such an unprecedented situation comes unprecedented decisions, with no handbook or established guidelines,” Sen. Mike Regan (R., York) said. “Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration that waivers were issued and denied with no basis, and especially with no transparency.”

In March, Wolf shuttered most of the state’s economy in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But in a nod to the complexity of the situation, the governor opened up a waiver process to allow businesses to make the case for why they should be allowed to reopen.

The stakes of the waiver process cannot be overstated, as the state’s decisions affect the livelihoods and potential safety of business owners, employees, and their families, and could mean the difference between solvency and bankruptcy.

Of the 42,000 applications submitted, 22,000 were granted a waiver or informed that they were already considered “life-sustaining,” state officials said. The secretary of the economic development agency, Dennis M. Davin, told lawmakers the process did not favor certain businesses and insisted the 45-person team made decisions in good faith.

Wonder what reason the owners of the Martin Tower site gave to secure their waiver. Though the waiver process doesn’t seem all that difficult if about 50% of the petitioners succeeded in getting a waiver.

Gadfly guesses there may be reason to hold on to some cynicism about the Tower saga.


Why was Gadfly thinking of Martin Tower?

logo Latest in a series of posts on Martin Tower logo

Why did Gadfly send you that silly picture of the Martin Tower site on Sunday?

It was such a nice weekend. Sunny. Spring-like. 090

And as he drove along the site, he suddenly “saw” it as if as new.

It looked so different. It’s fairly nearly cleared now. Have you noticed?

Feels like it’s nearing time for construction to begin.

But does the final project design come before the public again, or have all the final approvals been given?

All of Gadfly’s questions about the site flew back like birds returning north.

  • Are we really going to have 500+ apartments there?
  • Will they be less cookie-cutter looking than the renderings we saw?
  • Will any be “affordable” like the memorable old guy asked at the very tail end of the Nitschmann public meeting?
  • Will the whole area be imperviously paved?
  • Will we get sidewalks along Schoenersville to the Monocacy so there’s a walkable connection from there to North Bethlehem?
  • Will there be a crosswalk or other traffic calming at the foot of the Schoenersville hill?
  • Will there be a recreation trail/path access to Burnside and the trail along the Monocacy?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to the youth recreation areas along Schoenersville up to Illick’s Mill?
  • Will there be better pedestrian/bike access to Westgate Mall?
  • Will there really be a gas station down by 378?

Sorry if Gadfly is scratching an old sore.

Suffer any damage from the Martin Tower implosion? (75)

(75th in a series on Martin Tower)


If you know anybody that suffered any damage during the implosion tell them to file their claim sooner rather than later. The implosion company is refusing to pay its claims on a building they did months ago.

George Lopez

They probably don’t want to release the original data (74)

(74th in a series on Martin Tower)

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


They probably don’t want to release the original data because that could have serious OSHA repercussions to all the people that were required to work that day and were exposed to the cloud of dust. It violates the law regarding exposure to respirable crystalline silica.


“Can we please see the original data as gathered by each monitor?” (73)

(73rd in a series on Martin Tower)

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.


This summary does not present the results in a very helpful way. It would be nice to know the range of concentrations by particle size per monitor. To say that during the implosion maximum concentrations ranged from 9.3 to 33,625 micrograms per cubic meter of air for particles with an average diameter of between .31 and .91 micrometers does not allow us to put the results in the context of any meaningful ambient air regulatory standards, which designate safe levels for particles that measure 2.5 (or 10) micrometers. Assuming the presented numbers were averaged across all four monitors in very different locations, we don’t know where the fallout was worst, and what amount of particulate might have fallen into the creek or an area where people live (vs. what looks like a parking lot on their map).

The results suggest that one PM monitor was inundated with particulate, so I guess we can assume that location was hit the worst, but what were the specific numbers associated with that location? Also, as Mr. Lopez notes, telling us what was not in the air is not the same thing as telling us what was in the air. I guess these data show that the demolition company was not lying when it said it had removed all the asbestos and lead paint, but we already had reason to believe that was true because the DEP went and checked their work. Did they even bother to do a chemical analysis to identify other toxins? I guess we’ll have to wait for the DEP to tell us what else might have been in the air, assuming their monitors were not inundated with so much dust as to also become “overloaded.”

Can we please see the original data as gathered by each monitor? What is here simply conceals any meaningful variation in exposure by location to either homeowners or aquatic resources.


Breena has way more science than Gadfly has but still not enough. So I say again: The developer’s report is (obviously) going to be questioned. There will be suspicions of some sort of cover-up. Is there some (objective) scientist “out there” in Gadfly-land who can help us understand what the developer and the DEP reports say and don’t say. The developer is probably before the City right now with the next step in design plans, which just as probably will be controversial, and they will be before the public again. This is a good time to be sure the developer was “clean” in terms of claims of safety from the demolition.

Tasting the dust (72)

(72nd in a series on Martin Tower)

ssinsider is known to Gadfly but prefers to remain anonymous.


The PM didn’t disappear after a half an hour; as Mr. Crownfield said, it blew away. But not just into not nearby neighborhoods. Into faraway ones, too! We could taste the dust on our lips in the south side well into the late afternoon hours (up until the rain started), even when we were not in the direction of the prevailing winds!

When we drove by the site two days ago, and it was slightly breezy, the same thing happened: you could taste the cement (or is it concrete?) dust on your lips! They are telling us that is normal? What does “normal” mean? What does “remarkable” mean? If you ask me, or the nearby neighbors, it has all been pretty remarkable.


The developer’s report is (obviously) going to be questioned. There will be suspicions of some sort of cover-up. Is there some (objective) scientist “out there” in Gadfly-land who can help us understand what the developer and the DEP reports say and don’t say. The developer is probably before the City right now with the next step in design plans, which just as probably will be controversial, and they will be before the public again. This is a good time to be sure the developer was “clean” in terms of claims of safety from the demolition.


“Why not just say what was in the dust not what wasn’t in the dust?” (71)

(71st in a series on Martin Tower)

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Oh Geez. They didn’t even test for respirable silica which is what caused thousands of horrible cancer deaths after the collapse of the WTC. As for the “However, two air samples for asbestos content could not be analyzed due to overloading of particulate. ” Overloading is why they didn’t have air monitoring reports for the “8,000” other projects they imploded. Why not just say what was in the dust not what wasn’t in the dust?


One Air Quality Report on the Martin Tower demolition (70)

(70th in a series on Martin Tower)

Vertex Martin Tower results

Here linked are air quality test results from the developer’s testing agent.

Air 5ampling results revealed no detectable concentration5 of asbestos or lead. However, two air samples for asbestos content could not be analyzed due to overloading of particulate. PM monitoring revealed no remarkable concentrations in three of the sampling locations. The PM monitoring station positioned northeast of the building within the fence line near the Eaton Ave/ Schoenersville Road egress was visibly coated with debris following the implosion. Data from this northeast sampling station indicates a significant spike of PM for less than a half hour after the implosion, subsequently, the PM concentrations generally went back to normal or slightly above normal readings.
If you should have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
The Vertex Companies, Inc.

Test results from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will need to be obtained with a Right-to-Know request when they become available.

Answer for Mr. Lopez (69)

(69th in a series on Martin Tower)

See post #68 in this series

From a good source:

There are 2 air quality (“dust”) reports from Martin Tower, per Bob Novatnack.

1) Air quality report paid for by developers Wagner/Ronca et al, done by a private firm and to be finalized and released to Bob Novatnack this week. As soon as he receives it, he will make it public.

2) Air quality report from PA State Department of Environmental Protection, which they will release only through a Right-to-Know request. Not sure when that one would be finished and RTK-able.

Councilman Callahan’s angst (67)

(67th  in a series on Martin Tower)

There were aspects of the Martin Tower demolition that were contentious.

Gadfly’s pee was warm over lack of direct attention by the City to long-term health effects from the “dust.”

A follower said Gadfly sounded “agitated” and “furious” at the Nitschmann night meeting. (You can play the tape.)

But one thing Gadfly readily acknowledged at that meeting as did everyone else before, during, and since the demolition was the absolutely outstanding work done by Robert Novatnack, Bethlehem’s Emergency Services Coordinator, who led the project from the City side. Mr. Novatnack was given an award by the County and at the May 22 City Council meeting received a particularly eloquent citation from the City (kudos to the author!).  You can listen to that well-deserved citation on the City video beginning at min. 59:30. It is really excellent.

Everybody please take a moment and nod thanks in the direction of City Hall to Mr. Novatnack for a job selflessly and tirelessly well done. There is something in his very gentle and genial voice that gives you confidence that all is under control.

But Gadfly would like to call attention here to the interchange between Councilwoman Van Wirt and Councilman Callahan that framed Mr. Novatnack’s presentation and, rather awkwardly in Gadfly’s mind, temporarily halted the presentation of the citation.

Please listen to Gadfly’s audio of this section of the Council meeting or watch on the City video beginning at minute 43:47. It takes less than 10 minutes.

Gadfly has said before that the dynamic between these two councilpersons is worth paying attention to.

PVW made three points:

1) the air sampling results should be posted online for citizens to look at

2) she was quite sure (personal inspection) that there was cement debris swept down into the Monocacy and we must do better in the future protecting our natural resource

3) speaking as a physician and explicitly answering an argument made by the demolitioners about the safety of the “dust,” she observed that “imploded cement particulate from cured concrete . . . is incredibly different from what is spewed out from our cement plants [like Casilio].”

PVW’s tone – to Gadfly’s ear, and you can judge for yourself – was firm but fair.

She certainly was not accusatory toward Mr. Novatnack:

“I do think that you handled a difficult situation . . . with grace and patience, and I thank you for the good job you did with that.”

“Mr. Novatnack has been very responsive all the time to all of my concerns.”

“This is not on you, Mr. Novatnack . . . this is not you doing it better, but I think we as a community . . .”

“I really do admire how you’ve handled all this, handled all my concerns . . . Thank you for your patience with me particularly and helping the citizens understand what was happening.”

“You are very responsive, attentive, and patient.”

“Thank you again for your good work.”

Councilman Callahan, admitting to an “angst in [his] tone right now,”  then temporarily halted the reading of the citation for the purpose of 1) questioning PVW’s “awareness” ( a term used three times) of certain facts since she is only a recent resident of the City and 2) decrying her lack of questioning before “stoking fear” (a phrase used three times) among the residents – a behavior irresponsible by public officials.

A point of order halted BC’s train of thought.

Gadfly felt BC was out of order. Gadfly was very troubled by BC’s response to PVW. He found it both condescending and erroneous.

To Gadfly, PVW’s comments made perfectly clear that she knew about Casilio and that she was probably making a pest of herself asking questions.

To Gadfly, “stoking fear” might be thought of as insulting. PVW is a physician, and she made a comment about the particulates and public health danger in her professional capacity.

BC’s point of PVW’s short 4-year residence in the City as implying lack of standing in the Martin Tower discussion reminded Gadfly of BC last year claiming higher authority to speak about the Southside since he has lived in Bethlehem longer that Councilwoman Negron.

PVW sounded like a responsible public official to Gadfly.

One of the goals of the Gadfly project is to help us know our Councilpersons better, especially when it comes time to vote. Council meetings are now on video, so residents can judge for themselves.

But Gadfly thought he would italicize this interchange, as it were, as another one especially illustrative of the nature and temperament of these two Councilpeople (see post #60), who literally sit at opposite poles of the Head Table.

“How many communities would deliberately destroy their historic tallest building?” (66)

(66th  in a series on Martin Tower)

Though Martin Tower is now an imploded heap of rubble and thus “old news,” Gadfly hastens to archive follower Al Wurth’s perspective so that it will be available to historians of this moment in Bethlehem history.

Wurth’s moving comments at the Nitschmann public meeting (where he was rudely interrupted from the head table) got the most vigorous applause of the night.

Here’s Wurth’s excellent essay, a version of which appeared as an op-ed just before the demolition.

Al Wurth, “What is the advantage to the community of ‘imploding’ Martin Tower?” Lehighvalleylive, May 17, 2019.

What is the advantage to the community of “imploding” Martin Tower?

In a few days, on Sunday May 19, Bethlehem residents will have a surprise on our way to church.  The spectacle is the announced  “implosion” of the iconic Martin Tower, the former headquarters of the steel company known round the world by the name of its birthplace — Bethlehem. However, it won’t be terrorists who have carried out the assault but rather our local officials and people we call “developers” who have led us to do it to ourselves.

The building will fall on itself after being broken apart with explosive charges and will release a cloud of dust that will spread over the city (and Nitschmann school across the road), and travel for miles in an ever-larger pattern to the Southeast, if prevailing winds are in place—aimed initially toward the most densely populated parts of town – the near West Side, downtown, the historic districts and the South Side—and toward South Mountain, which will likely contain even more of the dust in city.

Actually, we did not vote for any plan to destroy the Martin Tower; it was not a decision made by the people. It would never have been supported by a referendum, but we never had a vote. It was instead enabled, ambiguously, in a 6-1 rezoning vote (promoted by Mayor Donchez), by city council in December 2015, that effectively removed protection of Martin Tower as a historic structure. Only three of the members of City Council who approved that rezoning remain on council, Councilors Callahan, Reynolds, and Waldron; the lone dissenter, Kathy Reuscher, and the others, including City Business Manager Eric Evans, are no longer on council.

The insensitivity of the city leaders to the history and the uniqueness of the structure should not be surprising. Abandonment and destruction of old structures in “historic” Bethlehem has lately been common.  Indeed, good advice for preserving property would be: Don’t get on the National Register of Historic Places—like the old Broughal School, or even be designated historic, like the 2nd Avenue Armory, because you end up in the cross-hairs of the absentee out-of-town speculators that call themselves developers.

So, three years later, it should be no surprise that the unique and historic structure, the tallest building in the Lehigh Valley, would be scheduled for demolition by “implosion” at the same time that cities around the world are seeing a boom in distinctive tall structures.  I recently visited Durham NC, where one was just completed, and condominiums on the upper floors are listed at $1 million. Rather than take advantage of the unparalleled views (much better than Durham’s) from our own tallest building (that used to be reserved for the steel execs), our leaders’ choice apparently has been to destroy both the uniqueness and the historical character of Martin Tower in favor of suburban-style “generica” developments made up of low-rise structures on acres of parking lots—mirroring the shopping centers across the street.

Bethlehem doesn’t have to settle for this plan, and certainly citizens should not face the risks of the “implosion demolition.” The original rationale for demolition, that the Tower was too plagued by old construction materials like asbestos, no longer applies. Fortunately, the negative characteristics of the old building have been removed by the developer; only the historic significance and the unique character of the building remain. With its costly and dangerous asbestos removed, it is what Bethlehem Steel made it to be—the skyscraper company’s skyscraper—a hometown tribute to the builder of world-class bridges and buildings.

Instead of completing the destruction, why not retrofit the remaining steel structure with new cover skin with solar panels, add state of the art efficiency, insulation, and daylighting, and other modern technologies, and remodel the old monument in a 21st century form? The solar exposure (for PV panels and daylighting) is unmatched as the building is not shaded from any direction—another distinctive  characteristic of its monumental status.

The mayor and council and other state and local officials (who have been conspicuously silent) can work together to find a better and much safer plan. Place a moratorium on any demolition to get clear comparisons of cost and risk of the slow but steady (job creating) piece-by-piece demolition alternative, compared to the quick and dirty implosion. These estimates have not been provided to the public. Meanwhile, seek initiatives from other builders who could contract with the current owners for the structure’s skeleton and shell to be turned into multi-use and multi-level  residential, and commercial area, like so many similar developments in other communities.

The complaints from the absentee owners about how long it will take can hardly be considered serious given the years of inactivity that the location has endured. The owners will still have their special tax breaks from the CRIZ–that they can apply to the project and the surrounding property.  Make no mistake, citizens are paying for the destruction of Martin Tower not just in the destructive pollution and loss of our history; our leaders are actually giving special tax breaks to the wreckers.

The old obstacles to reuse have been removed; why destroy the core and its historic and structural integrity—and make citizens hide from the pollution?  How many communities would deliberately destroy their historic tallest building?  Bethlehem officials, and the developers, can do better.

Op Ed submitted by Prof. Al Wurth, Bethlehem resident and (imperiled) neighbor of Martin.

The Martin of Martin Tower (65)

(65th  in a series on Martin Tower)

Bob Bilheimer is General Manager of the Industrial Archives & Library here in Bethlehem and was the General Manager of Public Affairs at Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where he was responsible for corporate communications.

Bob prepared these press releases on Ed Martin for publication before the demolition.

Gadfly got behind in his journalistic endeavors, however, and apologizes to Bob for not posting them at a more timely moment.



Edmund F. Martin – The Man Behind the Tower – IAL News Release – May 15, 2019


Edmund F. Martin & Bethlehem Steel Timeline


Why hasn’t the local media covered the health concerns?(64)

(64th  in a series on Martin Tower)
Martin Tower demolition May 19

Nalyn Marcus has had a business across the street from Martin Tower since 2007. 

 Dear Gadfly:

There is a lot of voiced concern, information and commentary on this site which I was only made aware of two weeks ago. Insightful info and thought provoking questions to raise awareness on many topics, but for me these weeks, I’m laser focused on the Tower and all it implies. I often wonder why the local media has not found it newsworthy to dig or write more on health concerns as part of their implosion coverage. It has seemed merely a brush stroke of coverage. I mentioned my concerns weeks ago to a reporter who said that the air quality was an ‘interesting angle’ that he might follow up on. Then nothing. Why I wonder. And how far of a reach does this site have? Is it monitored by our Lehigh Valley journalists or are we all preaching to our own choir?
So I’m using my painters tape and old sheets, taking photos and removing delicate glass and wall hangings tomorrow. I am grateful Im getting help and now that thunderstorms are forecast that is the blessing too. I’m doing more than has been suggested to get ready, but that’s me. I prefer to be over prepared, rather than lament ‘I shoulda’ after. Thank you for this site Gadfly. I believe we’re all better educated having this excellent source of info you provide.


Is the City putting a higher value on property & profits than on people’s health & lives? (63)

(63rd  in a series on Martin Tower)
Martin Tower demolition May 19

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.


The real takeaway from this entire process is that City officials:
• accepted the contractor as a valid source of information on risks
• excluded the city’s Health Department from the process
• assumed that DEP regulations protect public health (what the regulations actually do is permit harm as long as the applicant meets certain requirements)
Clearly they are willing to allow this to go ahead despite demonstrated public health impacts.
This is what happens when government officials place a higher value on property (& profits) than on people’s health & lives.

I think this [post#62 on silica] supports the fact that any comparison to Casilio is bogus, another false statement from the demolition company.


Poor CDI — they can’t find their silica (62)

(62nd in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

CDI’s dust is only made of sand and lime — amazing!

May 9 afternoon meeting. Repeated again in the night meeting.

Why is Silica Hazardous?

Silica, often referred to as quartz, is a very common mineral.  It is found in many materials common on construction and oil & gas sites, including soil, sand, concrete, masonry, rock, granite, and landscaping materials.

The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles.  These dust particles are very small. You cannot see them. This respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.


(61st in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Reading this [post #60], here is what gets me. During all of the countless meetings between the owners, contractors, city, county, and state people that Councilperson Callahan mentions, why didn’t anybody ask one simple question ” Is dust damage covered by the contractor’s liability insurance?” The answer would be “No, only accidental discharges are covered (and this could hardly be called “accidental”) which brings us to the next question. “Why won’t the insurers cover it?” ITS BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHATS IN THE DUST! The risk is too great.


Reflecting on the demolition discussion (60)

(60th in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

Risk tolerance should not be the default position of public officials.
(Breena Holland)

I wish all this didn’t make me think of Erin Brockovich, but it does . . .
(Nalyn Marcus)

Thank you, all of you . . . I personally think they have done what they possibly could do in the right way to take this building down.
(Resident Jean at the May 9 meeting)

The demolition of Martin Town is a “done deal” said two residents in the response period at the end of the May 9 night meeting at Nitschmann.

Maybe so.

But if so, it’s time to reflect.

Gadfly is thinking about several things.

One is the type of representation we want, the type of representative we have.

Councilpersons Van Wirt and Callahan were particularly illustrative at the discussion of the demolition at the May 7 City Council meeting, as I detailed in post #38.

Gadfly thinks that Van Wirt and Callahan are in a real sense talking to each other.

North pole and south pole.

Please listen to this interchange and ask yourself what kind of citizen each Councilperson envisions. And ask yourself how you would describe the tone of their deliveries.

Listen. Take the time to listen. It’s important.

Don’t look down at the transcript.

Listen first.

Councilperson Van Wirt (6 mins.):

Councilperson Callahan (3 mins.):

Ok, now listen to this second interchange.


Councilperson Van Wirt (30 seconds):

Councilperson Callahan (2 mins.):

What are you thinking?

What kind of citizen does each Councilperson envision?

So, now here are transcripts. But the tone is as important to my question as the content. So listening is primary.

Councilperson Van Wirt: “I’m trying to get this information to the people. . . . The time frame for this is still troublesome . . . so the citizens aren’t at the last minute feeling that they are scrambling for answers that they want to know for their health. . . .The predominant concern that I’m hearing about is health concerns, and these are legitimate health concerns. . . . I think there is a valid role here for the Department of Health to be involved in disseminating health-related information to the citizens. . . It’s not on the citizens to not have the information. . . . They deserve the right to know the answers to these questions. . . . I would ask that the Department of Health be involved. . . . If we have to double-down and do a deep dive, we need to be doing it. . . . Michael Bloomberg said, ‘In God we trust, everyone else bring data.’ So tell them to bring data.”

Councilperson Callahan: “Can you just tell us briefly all the organizations that have been involved in the planning of the demo? . . . How about from the county? . . . How about the state? . . . And what other departments from the state have been involved? . . . How about the FAA? . . . Are there any county, state, or city organizations that you think should be involved that weren’t involved? . . . And the people that are involved in the demolition, this their first time doing it? . . . Do you know of any buildings that they’ve knocked down that something went wrong? . . . I know you and the owner and everybody else in all the departments that have been involved have done an enormous amount of planning on this. The thing that kind of upsets me is this undertone that all the professionals, these organizations aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing . . . everybody’s just pushing this through to demo a building . . . I think you are going to find out that a large majority, an astronomical amount of people are informed about it and feel completely safe about it and you are going to see a lot of people getting up early in the morning to watch it, and they have no fear of anything that’s going on at the site and they have complete confidence in all the professionals as I do.”

What kind of citizen does each Councilperson envision?

Gadfly always hates to speak for others.

But he hears one Councilperson who wants to empower citizens to make their own good decisions and another who is willing to let the “professionals” do the thinking.

Wow! — did Gadfly stretch too far? Is he the only one who hears this?

In any event, it’s worthwhile to ask which kind of citizen you see yourself and what kind of representative you want.

Johns Hopkins has never used an implosion to demolish a building (59)

(59th in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

George Lopez is retired after working twenty years with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Johns Hopkins has never used an implosion to demolish a building. That’s blatantly false. The building in question and cited in the study was Broadway Homes, which was owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. Hopkins had no involvement with the implosion other than being an adjacent neighbor.


The point of reference here is CDI’s claim that hospitals use implosions, so that implosions must be good.

Bethlehem is essentially supporting the demolition without investigating the health hazard (58)

(58th in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

Dear Gadfly,

Your most recent questions [post #57] show a willingness to investigate a very difficult political environment. The city essentially is supporting the demolition without investigating the health hazard of demolition. They did have the City of Bethlehem Health Department at the meeting on Thursday, but they allowed the demolition company ( who is in a conflict of interest) to answer health concerns. As I found during my questioning [at the May 9 night meeting], the responses were essentially deflections about our worry about long-term health problems. An argument with them would have mitigated the points, I tried to make. So let me answer some of your questions and responses the company gave to defend the implosion.

1. The amount of dust will be the same if mechanically taken down slowly vs. implosion.
This may or may not be true, but a slow release would not have the magnitude of silica load to the community outside the building. As you questioned, most of the release would be experienced by the workers wearing masks in the building. On the other hand, the implosion would definitely increase the probability of the community to inhale silica since the dust will be outside the building. The mass of silica released all at once would increase the probability of inhalation to cause damage. Once the building is down, the processing of the remains will cause a constant stream of silica dust over a protracted time. If I were frequenting that area afterward, I would wear a mask. It is hard to understand how Lowe’s would not understand that going to their store may cause a health hazard. Maybe their income will drop because of fear of dust contamination. How about all the medical office buildings? Patients with medical disabilities will also be encountering dust from the processing of the remains of Martin Tower.

2. People who work in the cement industry do not have lung problems.
There are multiple papers that refutes this statement. Obviously they either made up the answer from the experience of one person or it was meant to be an outright lie. An example of a paper referring to Portland Cement workers is: Effect of Exposure to Cement Dust among the Workers: An Evaluation of Health Related Complications, published June 20, 2018. As you mentioned, these workers get chronic lung disease from inhalation of silica and lime. [Listen to the comment by resident #4 at the May 9 night meeting: post #56.]

3. Johns Hopkins used demolition as their choice, so why are we questioning the choice?
This statement does not explain if this decision was chosen by the physicians. The decision could have been for a small building away from the hospital. It could have been decided by the management without physician support. So by name-dropping, they were putting up a smoke screen.

The one thing I do know. The cause and subsequent morbid effect is generally distant. The silica ( and possible asbestos) acts as a foreign material that does not go away once inhaled. It stays in the lung. The body’s response is to put fibrous tissue around the irritation. This takes many years. If there is little silica inhaled, the fibrous response may be focal. The residual lung tissue is enough for normal living. However, if there is much silica inhaled, it will effect enough lung tissue to compromise the transfer of oxygen from the alveolar sacs into the capillaries. This causes chronic lung disease. It also could lead to cancerous transformation.

I think the fact that the demolition company could not quote any medical studies after implosion is troubling. They cited a Philadelphia Study on measurements proximal to the implosion. There was no reference to where this information could be found.

I believe the City of Bethlehem has done a poor job in alleviating the problem we are confronting. I would like to know why the city allowed the implosion to occur. I believe the city is opening themselves to future law suits due to negligence once pulmonary diseases manifest themselves in the future.

Steven Diamond, DO, MBA
Forensic Pathologist

Concrete — lime — sand — silica (57)

(57th in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

Gadfly was a literature prof.

He knows “nuthin'” about the real, practical world out there.


Gadfly needs help.

Gadfly do believe (subject to review and documentation) that when asked what will be in the “dust” generated by the Martin Tower implosion — CDI answered twice (subject to review and documentation) that the dust will contain “sand and lime.”

Gadfly thought the dust would contain silica.

CDI did not mention silica.

Gadfly stands to be corrected.

Gadfly wishes somebody would correct him before he goes further, wasting your time.

So Gadfly does poor man’s research on the web and finds this web site: The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR — The Center for Construction Research and Training is an international leader in applied research and training for the construction industry, and serves as the National Construction Center for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH). Sounds legit.

And reads such things as:

  • The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles.  These dust particles are very small. You cannot see them. This respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.

Now this is a web site that focuses on workers, and when the developer has said that factors influencing the choice of implosion over conventional demolition are “safety and time,” I do believe that it is worker safety that is referred to. And we want worker safety too. But substitute “spectator” for “worker.”

And if one goes on in this web site, you find:

  • A worker’s chance of becoming ill from exposure to silica dust depends on the tasks performed, the amount of dust they are exposed to, and the frequency of the exposures. Each exposure to silica adds into the total load of silica in the lungs – in other words, each exposure adds to the lung damage.

So it may be that one exposure to a small amount of dust of short duration might not affect a healthy spectator.

The argument we have heard is that about the same amount of dust has already been generated in the last 18 months will be generated now in one shot. So there is no worry.

I’m not smart enough to get my mind around that argument. But it sounds fishy.

Might not a large amount of dust all at once be possibly more dangerous to a spectator?

Likewise, I’m not smart enough to figure that out.

Let me repeat from post #39 a site that contradicts developer statements:

The most efficient of all commercial demolition methods is explosion or implosion, but it’s typically only suitable when mechanical demolition and deconstruction aren’t an option. There are public health concerns with this type of demolition, including environmental issues, damage to adjacent structures, flying debris, air quality concerns, noise, and more. When used, this is typically the least expensive commercial demolition method.

And look at the link provided by George Lopez in post #45.

I’m bothered by the idea (subject to review and documentation) that CDI mentions sand and lime but not silica.

So, here’s my bottom line:

1) Is CDI “hiding” the presence of silica in the dust? If so, why?

2) If silica is there, is the amount of exposure here dangerous for spectators?

Anyone clearer headed than I want to press their brow against such questions?

The May 9 night meeting Q&A on the Martin Tower demolition (56)

(56th in a series on Martin Tower)

Martin Tower demolition May 19

Martin Tower demolition

Rough notes on the question period at the May 9 evening meeting
(time notation keyed to audio on Gadfly blog)
(doesn’t start quite at beginning)

Gadfly loves this stuff. Democracy. Public participation. Nitschmann auditorium decently populated by interested residents. Asking questions. Making comments.

The presentations at the 6pm meeting were virtually the same as at the 3pm meeting, so we don’t have to repeat them.

But here, except for 3-4 questioners at the beginning of the session is a complete record of the public participation period.

Listen to the whole proceeding. Use the “contents” below to browse to a specific section in which you are interested. Use the index at the end to find topics. Whatever. But Gadfly invites you to live or relive democracy in action.

1) work safety: pregnant woman asking if it’s safe to go to work at Lowe’s. Not if the dust blows in that direction. Do what you feel comfortable with.

2) Wind (1:45): will wind be measured on site? What will be the velocity on site at implosion time? No Anemometer on site. Higher velocity is better; dust gets quite dispersed. Wind not a factor.

3) long-term health problems (7:50): asking for Health Department statement on long-term health problems. Health director responds it’s ok.

4) Monocacy Creek (16:00): effect? Casilio has been there for years. Screens present prevent contamination.

5) air quality (19:30): distribution of small particulates? Will air be monitored before and after? Yes, testing before, during, and after, and checking of size. Will info be published? Yes.

6) cost (22:06): who pays? Not the City!

7) dust (23:00): how wide an area affected by particulate and how long? Worst-case scenario is calm day. What is dust made of? Sand and lime. How long does toxicity last? Been doing this for 18 months onsite and not toxic. How is it cleaned up? Sweep dry first, then water. Where disposing it? On site. Clean fill.

8) air quality (26:38): machines to clean air? masks? No.

9) decision factors for implosion (28:00): safety for workers and time.

10) responsibility (30:07): How many people here are elected representatives? Not enough consideration for citizen safety. If this goes bad, who is responsible? Demolition team.

11) air quality (32:20): why is our air quality so bad? Have anything to do with the 18 months of demolition work? No.

12: approvals (33:27): who approves? City and State. When? Friday, Monday. What chemicals in explosives? They go off as gas immediately on detonation. What’s the City permit? Demolition permit. Who approved remediation? Asbestos, EPA. Lead? No. Why not measure particulates? Jars will be analyzed. How made public? The independent firm? Vertex. How much water will be used? 3 cannons, several hundred gallons per minute. Water goes to inlets that have protection. How monitored? Screens will be monitored. Any way to know what the long-term impact is?

13: doing business (51:16): when can my customers with respiratory distress come back? Monday. If the dust blows toward you, we’ll clean it up. Pets? Keep inside if worried.

14): people with disabilities (53:52): can you get my son out of there for a day or two? Let’s talk.

15): I-Beam (55:59): what doing with it? will be onsite or in museum.

16) Monocacy (58:12): Is there no water testing and are alerts dependent on casual observers? Is there no pro-active, official monitoring? Protection is in place, and it is monitored to function properly. Not dependent on casual observers. Site will be actively monitored.

17) media (1:04:30): How is the “stay inside” message getting out for people who won’t see the last slide? City web site, newspapers, media, probably will be upped next week.

18) the clean-up (1:06:16): how do you clean up? contractor sweeps up.

19) asbestos (1:07:36): what about asbestos left? None, all gone.

20) work safety (1:10:08): what time do I need to get out of my house to go to work? satisfied

21) against questioners (1:12:25): you people are doing a good job, why grousing, nobody worried about Minsi bridge.

22) asbestos (1:14:42): was air quality tested when it was being cleaned out? Yes.

23) Why? (1:15:38): why did we want to blow this building up in the first place? Effect on the school we’re in? Safer than a carefully managed step-by-step demolition? Do you think the voters would have chosen this method?

24) photographic survey (1:21:08): Yes, also seismographs. Residents aren’t aware; talk to them.

25) infrastructure (1:24:45): this is a “done deal” – but looks to future, feels it will be worse. Traffic concerns. Mayor described past history and the public comment process at some length.

26) recycling (1:30:27): business closed on Monday? No. Recycling? Yes, steel and concrete. Reiterated the “done deal” now but wanted openness in future, so Mayor explained the process again.

27) Mayor’s conclusion (1:34:12)

28) affordable housing (1:34:55): Looking ahead, senior citizen asked for a portion of the site be affordable housing.



air quality: 5, 8, 11, 12

asbestos: 12, 19, 22

approvals: 12

awareness: 24

business: 13, 26

clean up: 18

cost: 6

decision factors: 9

dust: 7

future: 25, 26, 28

health, long-term: 3, 10, 12

home safety: 9

I-Beam: 15

media: 16

Monocacy Creek: 4, 12, 16

people with disabilities: 14

pets: 13

recycling: 26

seismograph: 24

why?: 23

wind: 2

work: 1, 20

Risk tolerance should not be the default position of public officials (55)

(55th 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.

Gadfly, I agree [with Gadfly post #52], which is why I used the word “equivocating” in my characterization of the message that was conveyed. One has to wonder whether the city might have actually encouraged viewing the demolition as a spectator sport had citizens and a couple councilwomen not drawn attention to the health risks. Since any recognizable impacts would likely be far in the future when the mayor is no longer in office, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the situation is being handled carelessly because there won’t be any immediate political consequences. I think I recall from a recent meeting, that Councilman Bryan Callahan even suggested that citizens’ spectator activity at the implosion would be a sign that everything is fine, that the citizens who are worried are over-reacting [yes, see post #38]. And yet, at the meeting with the “experts” from the company, when pushed, they finally admitted that the “safe” thing to do is stay indoors.

Risk tolerance should not be the default position of public officials. We look to them protect us, not to gamble with our health while trying to find something worth cheering in a a series of terrible land use decisions.