The last time we checked in, we were waving bye-bye to our beloved Sludge Tank as it was being demolished to pave way for some of Greenpoint Landing’s grand developments. Now that the demo is over, nearby residents are learning that the construction dust floating in the air, the same dust that entered homes and left residue over a children’s playground, was filled with lead and other harmful chemicals.
Welcome to remediation gone bad, where government agencies hire unscrupulous contractors who do shoddy work and leave us wondering if that odd smell in the air is just in our heads, or if something else is really going on, something infinitely more dangerous. Let me set the record straight—it’s not in your head: The people responsible for protecting our health aren’t doing their jobs.
From the onset of the tank’s demolition, residents complained the clean-up was not handled properly. Dust kicked up from construction debris coated cars and lined windowsills. Since the demolition involved asbestos abatement, concerns for potential exposure ran high for those living close to the site. Adding to the nightmare, residents saw the construction crew ill-equipped to handle the remediation. Water hoses meant for spraying down dust were often too short, leaving containments to fly into the air.
Despite evidence to the contrary, a spokesman for the DEP—the agency responsible for the demolition’s oversight —stated construction crews were careful. He also noted the DEP hired a contractor who sampled the air for hazardous materials and found none.
“It didn’t appear dusty to me from what our photographer documented,” the spokesman said.
Not buying it? Here’s why you shouldn’t: The contractor hired by the DEP to remove the Sludge Tank is a company called Skanksa. Skanksa is currently being sued by the Atlantic Yards for several mishaps, including faking sub-contractor data. One sub-contractor Skanksa uses for projects, including our Sludge Tank removal, is a company called NASDI–which was recently hit with over $40,000 in fines resulting from improper asbestos removal in a South Boston housing project. An investigation in Boston determined NASDI allowed both its workers and local residents to be exposed to toxic levels of asbestos.
Back at the Sludge Tank, one local living a block away described the air quality during the demolition as “horrible, thick and unbreathable.” When a nearby neighbor got sick, suspecting the air might be to blame, two families decided to pay for an independent test analysis of the dust. Brooklyn College tested the dust samples and found they contained 40 parts per million of lead and various other chemicals including chromium, zinc and arsenic. According to OSHA standards–federal guidelines used to determine the health and safety of construction workers–the levels found in the independent test analysis are deemed safe for adults.
While more tests are needed to determine asbestos exposure, even at low levels, lead and the other above mentioned chemicals aren’t things we want to be breathing–this is especially true for children.
“You wouldn’t want to have children exposed to the dust at even these fairly low numbers,” says Howard Meikle, a Tulane University professor, who studies urban environments and chemical impact when speaking with DNA Info.
Since the sludge tank was located next a children’s playground, it’s safe to say the DEP’s obvious lack of oversight has many parents alarmed. Experts say if the soil in the nearby playground absorbed the dust, children could potentially be exposed to an elevated and unsafe level of lead.
If this is how the Department of Environmental Protection handles their own projects, imagine the enforcement they’ll provide when private brownfield sites are cracked open for the fancy glass towers coming our way.
Our own Department of Environmental Conservation admits there are no police enforcing the State Environmental laws. Sadly, this means it’s up to us to remain on top of things. So while our local politicians are calling on the DEP to run more tests to realize the impact the dust has made on our community, we too, need to keep our eyes open and remain vigilant about on-going remediation efforts like the one happening right now at Superfund site Nuhart Plastics.
If you live near a construction site, and/or suspect improper construction practices or smell something weird—please report it! Equally important is attending community meetings and chiming in about clean-up efforts like tonight’s meeting on Nuhart Plastic’s new remediation plan, hosted by NAG at the Bushwick Inlet Park Meeting Room at 7 pm.
While we know a single complaint doesn’t do much, many complaints CAN force the city to deal with us. Strength in numbers is always a good thing. See you at tonight’s meeting!