Hotel Chelsea Has High Levels of Dust, Mold and Lead, Report Finds

By Mathew Katz on November 11, 2011 1:21pm 

CHELSEA — A controversial renovation of the Hotel Chelsea has unleashed hazardous levels of lead into the air — with some samples showing 10 to 40 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended lead safety levels, according to an environmental and safety report commissioned by hotel tenants.

The report, published by Olmsted Environmental Services, also found "excessive" levels of dust, crystalline silica — a carcinogen and lung irritant — and mold throughout the building, including in areas where tenants live.

"Inspection of the representative common areas and apartments revealed that the work in the building is causing excessive amounts of dust to enter occupied areas and apartments," the report said. "The levels of lead in settled dust is excessive and represents a significant hazard."

The report also expresses concern about the construction blocking fire exits.

"There are significant fire hazards and a blocked exit route caused by the construction," it said, going on to point out that some exit routes are blocked by plastic sheeting, padlocked doors and debris.

The study cited the plastic sheeting as the reason for the deaths of two firefighters during a blaze at the former Deutsche Bank building on Liberty Street in 2007.

The report was based on samples taken in both October and November throughout the hotel, one of which showed dust levels that were 10 times the amount outside.

The landmark building at 222 W. 23rd St. was bought by developer Joseph Chetrit in the summer, and soon stopped accepting guests.

The remaining tenants commissioned the study last month after concern that the building, constructed in 1884, is so old that dangerous building materials could inadvertently be released by workers while it's being gutted. Some of 80-100 residents that remain have complained about difficulty breathing due to excess dust in the air.

Samuel Himmelstein, the lawyer representing the tenants, said that the problems continue to mount.

"Some of the demolition has caused pipes to burst," he said. "The other day we had a steam pipe burst the apartments, so Olmsted has been back in to review it."

The report makes several recommendations about the renovation, including bringing in professional cleaners, stopping demolition until contractors are trained in Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards, clearing blocked emergency exists and removing moldy walls.

"The work should be stopped any time there is evidence of dust entering the common areas or occupied apartments and dust should be cleaned immediately," it said.

Himmelstein said that he turned the report over to the Chetrits' lawyer, Michael Brown, earlier this week via courier, but it was not immediately clear if the landlord had read it.

Himmelstein had also been trying to reach the Chetrits to meet with tenants and come up with a safety protocol for the renovation, but only managed to reach them Wednesday. The Chetrits' lawyer proposed meeting on Nov. 23, but a date has not been settled upon.

"That's two more weeks of renovation," Himmelstein said. "I want a meeting as soon as possible."

Himmelstein said he's threatened to bring the safety issues to court next week, pending approval from the hotel's tenants' group.

Repeated calls to Brown were not returned.

Himmelstein said he discussed the report in a conference call Wednesday with representatives from the offices of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Sen. Tom Duane, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.  

The lawyer said the pols have pledged to write a letter to the Chetrits, but none of the electeds' offices immediately responded to a request for comment.

In August, those same politicians urged hotel occupants to contact them if the renovations become to intrusive.

Meanwhile, tenants say the renovations are ongoing, with four floors being worked on at a time. It's currently unclear how long the renovations will last.

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