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GOWANUS, BROOKLYN - On September 6th, staffers to NYS Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and NYC Council Member Shahana Hanif revealed publicly for the first time that DEC confirmed the release of toxic vapors at levels that triggered an emergency alarm and work stoppage on July 27th at a worksite adjacent to EPA’s massive Gowanus Canal Superfund zone. The worksite is part of the former Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP), which is currently undergoing partial remediation and toxic containment under the supervision of DEC, an effort that has been widely criticized by the EPA and the community for its inadequacy.
Children who had been playing at St. Mary’s Playground—which is situated directly across from the heavily contaminated site—were the first to report to Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s office that they had smelled strong, prominent odors over several days, including July 27th. They were part of a camp run by the nearby International School of Brooklyn in Carroll Gardens and the smells, they said, seemed to be emanating from the former Citizens MGP site.
Thomas Greene Park on Nevins Street and the blocks surrounding it were built on top of a former Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP). The soil underneath these blocks is extremely toxic. Though part of the site will be remediated under NY State supervision before residential construction can begin, there is real potential for cancer causing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other toxins to become airborne affecting those of us who use the Park and Double D Pool.
On June 28th, the members of the community who are on the Gowanus Community Advisory Committee (CAG) unanimously passed a Resolution asking for air monitoring equipment to be placed inside Thomas Greene Park since it is used by many members of our community, especially those with young children. (Link to CAG resolution)
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has agreed to install air monitors around specific construction sites adjoining the Park and Double D Pool, but since there are numerous other sites that will be under construction at various times, we need and should have constant air monitoring within the Park and Pool areas to collect samples and alert us to when the air quality becomes unsafe.
We, in the Voice of Gowanus, are concerned that DEC’s response is not enough.
Since EPA is responsible for the clean up of the toxic mess under Thomas Greene Park, help us in calling on EPA to install the equipment desperately needed to insure that the air quality within Park is safe. Additionally, we are asking for air monitoring equipment to be installed inside of St. Mary’s Park and Playground since it is directly across the street to another toxic former MGP site.
No governmental agency responded in a timely manner back in May
Keep in mind that no governmental agency responded in a timely manner back in May when numerous sites along the Gowanus Canal had pile driving on them releasing toxic fumes into the surrounding neighborhood. The workers on these sites were not protected nor were the residents living near these sites. The community was outraged by the lack of warning, especially those of us who were using the nearby parks with our children.
Call on the EPA to create an open, transparent network of air quality monitors within our parks where any concerned neighbor can check on the air quality at any time.
We need air monitoring systems that not only share real time information to responsible agencies and private construction crews but also notifies the surrounding community. We need to be able to hear the alarm bells when they’re ringing too when we smell the coal tar and other toxins off-gassing. There will be numerous construction sites adjacent to Thomas Greene Park and St. Mary’s Park and Playground and we need to be proactive in making sure protections to the community are in place. To be clear, it’s not just the Gowanus Canal that’s a Superfund site, the land on both sides are just as polluted and so will be the air during immense construction.
As NYers, we believe in safety-in-numbers.
If you see or smell something, say something. We must ensure safety to all and especially for our children who play in these parks on a daily basis.
Ms. Garcia can be contacted by phone at: 212-637-5000
and please follow up by emailing Ms. Garcia at: [email protected]
Please share this with your friends, neighbors, and local elected officials.
Thank you! Voice of Gowanus
DEVELOPERS FLOUT EPA
PILE DRIVE INTO TOXIN-FILLED GOWANUS SITE
COMMUNITY GROUP FILES INJUNCTION IN COURT TO PREVENT FURTHER DEVELOPER RECKLESSNESS AS JUNE 15TH DEADLINE FOR 421a APPROACHES
GOWANUS, BROOKLYN – Community coalition Voice of Gowanus doubled down on their lawsuit to require legitimate impact analysis at toxic sites in Gowanus as developers defied the EPA and drove piles into Superfund sites with no prior notice or EPA approval. The reckless pile driving endangers community health and sets a terrible precedent that developers’ greed can supersede the power of federal agencies.
Motion for Injunction Filed in State Court
In line with the demands of their Article 78 petition, Voice Of Gowanus has filed a motion for preliminary injunction to stop Gowanus Rezone-related construction activity in the area. As stated in the filing, "even the City-drafted Environmental Impact Statement concedes that 'any redevelopment involving subsurface disturbance could potentially increase pathways for human exposure to any subsurface hazardous materials present.’"
Greed Speeds Dangerous Push to Break Ground
Developers have pursued a brazen effort to drive piles and pour foundations without proper safety precautions or oversight in their race to meet the June 15th deadline for the 421a tax credit—a developer giveaway that former Council Member Brad Lander and former Mayor Bill de Blasio allowed to run rampant via the massive Gowanus Rezoning pushed through late last year.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Miranda Sielaff, a member of Voice of Gowanus, who lives near the site of the incident. “How is every level of government – city, state, and federal – failing to keep these developers in check?”
Voice of Gowanus sent a letter to elected officials—including NYS Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and Council Members Shahana Hanif and Lincoln Restler—who had previously reached out to state and city agencies, flagging the incidents. VoG pushed for these representatives to go further, demanding that a Stop Work Order be put in place until a safety review could be conducted by EPA and inviting those officials to support their legal action.
Community Anger, A Petition Emerges
Sielaff and fellow members of Voice of Gowanus launched a petition that has now blown past 500 signatories. Anger is palpable in the blocks surrounding the pile driving. And for good reason.
“Residents are fired up,” said Martin Bisi, a local small business owner in Gowanus. “It’s one thing for a community member to have no knowledge of this pile driving into a poisoned site. But it’s another for the EPA to receive no notice and then be ignored when it demands that the work be halted.”
Breaking Open Toxic Land, Risk of Fumes
The Gowanus incident took place on the notorious Public Place site, a former manufactured gas plant site that remains riddled with coal tar even after a limited remediation that the EPA has publicly criticized. EPA officials have repeatedly questioned the city’s plan to build housing and a school at this location, given the risk of toxic vapors from contamination soaked deep into the soil. A rep from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation stated at a public meeting that developers were allowed to proceed in order to meet the June 15th 421a deadline in a shocking move that put the interests of developers over the health and safety of the community.
Thanks to a rushed rezoning process, this community is looking at years of noise and disruption alongside a Superfund remediation. We need assurance that the land, water, and air are clean before development begins. Instead, our elected officials have undermined the health and safety of our residents as well as put our existing housing infrastructure around these sites at risk of collateral damage.
Driving pilings through toxic contamination, as exist the Brownfield and former MGP sites surrounding the Canal, can create pathways for those toxins to enter the air and the water surrounding the area, as shown here.
Real Estate sharks are rushing to begin work on their foundations before June 15th, when the 421-a Tax Credit is slated to expire. In their haste, they are putting the community at risk. The pile driving on the Public Place site in particular is of grave concern since the environmental clean-up of this Brownfield has not yet been signed off by the US Environmental Protection Agency. When reached via email, the EPA stated that it had not been informed of the pile driving and was "concerned".
What’s most concerning is that the former Citizens Gas Works plant (Public Place) is known to have pockets of coal tar pollution 100–150 feet below ground, which will remain even after the Brownfield clean-up. This means that the 80–90 foot piles that are currently being driven deep into the ground may create vapor shafts for toxic gasses that are released into the surrounding area including a public park, the ISB school and St. Mary’s church.
Since we cannot be sure that all safety regulations are being followed, since permits are being issued for sites that have not yet been fully environmentally remediated, we are demanding an immediate Temporary Restraining Order on ALL pile driving in the Gowanus rezone area.
Please, sign your name to this petition now and demand a strategy that does no harm.
In November 2021, the City approved an 82 block rezone of Gowanus, sweeping major environmental issues under the rug.
Last week, VOG's own legal counsel Maureen Koetz addressed the VOG lawsuit and the many political and environmental issues that surround the Gowanus rezone with host Michael G. Haskin's on WBAI's radio program, "Living for the City." Below, you can listen to the entire show, or read the transcript of Maureen's conversation with Michael.
The future of the Gowanus rezoning is anything but certain as community coalition Voice of Gowanus filed a new lawsuit today vigorously attacking the profoundly illegal rezoning, highlighting multiple violations of federal and state environmental law. The suit, filed by Voice of Gowanus, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (F.R.O.G.G.) and area residents, goes far beyond what any other recent neighborhood rezoning challenges have alleged, setting out multiple causes of action.
Mr. Sean W. O’Donnell
US Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Inspector General
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2410T)
Washington, DC 20460
Mr. Breon Peace
US Attorney, Eastern Districtof New York
US Department of Justice
271 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, NY 11201
June 14, 2022
By letter dated May 16, 2022 (copy attached), Voice of Gowanus (VoG) requested the USEPA Inspector General open a full investigation of multiple compliance and enforcement failures affecting the Gowanus Canal under Federal and State laws and regulations, including but not limited the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or“Superfund”), and the Clean Water Act (CWA).
VoG is writing again to follow-up on that correspondence for three reasons:
1. To request USEPA IG acknowledgement of receipt of the May 16, 2022 investigation request;
2. To identify additional areas for investigation (including potential criminal activity) based on events transpiring since the prior request;
3. To provide additional information regarding regulatory failures noted in the previous investigation request.
By Registered Mail and Email
Mr. Sean W. O’Donnell, USEPA Inspector General
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Inspector General
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2410T)
Washington, DC 20460
May 16, 2022
Given that the USEPA Inspector General is the relevant oversight official trusted to speak the truth, promote good governance, and contribute to improved human health and the environment in the United States, our group Voice of Gowanus (VoG), a coalition of long-standing community organizations in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, is contacting you to investigate extensive enforcement and compliance failures related to the Gowanus Canal and its environs.