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Church that hosted Al Capone’s wedding, 20 other sites by Gowanus Canal test positive for dangerously unsafe air


A famous church that once hosted Al Capone’s wedding, along with 20 other sites near Brooklyn’s toxic Gowanus Canal, are in need of one hell of a clean-up after testing positive for dangerously unsafe air, The Post has learned.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation in late April uncovered cancer-causing vapors seeping from polluted soil into the basement and rectory of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Carroll Gardens.

“This is coming from God knows where,” sighed the church’s pastor, Monsignor Guy Massie. “We’re doing the best we can right now, but this has been a big shock.”

There was one saving grace: The air in the 173-year-old house of worship where mass is held — and where the Brooklyn-born Capone married his wife Mae in 1918 before moving on to rule Chicago’s gangland — came back clean. So did test results for the private school next door that rents space from the church.

The state in September quietly been investigating roughly 100 blocks in and around the canal – where thousands of people live and work — to determine how many properties are contaminated, The Post reported last week.

On Thursday, the agency confirmed it’s tested 131 of the 626 properties it’s targeted during the ongoing first phase — and 21 had air levels of hazardous chemicals above “acceptable” levels.

The DEC refused to identify the sites that tested positive or release toxicity results, but the Court Street church was identified in a letter sent Tuesday to parents of students at the International School of Brooklyn.

Joe Santos, the school’s administrator, told parents the school “was given the all clear” but “elevated levels” of tetrachloroethylene – a dry-cleaning chemical linked to cancer – were discovered in parts of the rectory and church next door.

The rectory, on the corner of Court and Luquer streets about three blocks from the canal, no longer houses priests.

But it’s regularly used by church staff, who’ll be temporarily relocated until the DEC take steps to remove harmful fumes by venting underground contaminants, Massie said.

The monsignor added the church plans to inform its parishioners of the ongoing cleanup during this weekend’s masses.

Seth Hillinger of the advocacy group Voice of Gowanus called the findings “very concerning” because it proves the same underground pollution plaguing the east side of the canal also reached the bustling Court Street commercial district on the west, a favorite hotspot of stroller moms and foodies.

“It’s one thing when you hear that [the neighborhood of] Gowanus is polluted, it’s another when you learn that it’s now in Carroll Gardens, a neighborhood full of children and young families,” he said.

The DEC began its probe in September following public outcry over reports it waited nearly two years to alert the public that cancer-causing vapors nearly 22 times the amount considered safe escaped from polluted soil and into a popular shuffleboard club.

The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club on Union Street in Gowanus is now considered “safe” by DEC standards, but a nearby building the agency refuses to publicly identify had air levels of trichloroethylene, or “TCE” — an industrial solvent linked to cancer and Parkinson’s disease — 450 times above acceptable levels, according to tests taken last year.

Many other buildings near the canal are former manufacturing sites that saturated soil with toxic coal tar.

Over the past century, much of the coal tar – dubbed “black mayonnaise” by longtime residents — also seeped into the canal, which is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways and undergoing a massive federal Superfund cleanup.

Environmentalist believe coal tar and other toxic substances are shifting underground through waterways connecting to the canal.

Walter Hang, who heads the Ithaca, N.Y.-based environmental database firm Toxics Targeting, said he believes the 21 properties that tested positive are just a “small fraction” of the number of sites along the canal plagued by toxic vapors – adding the DEC testing system is “flawed” because it only checks a “few” parts of each building rather than the entire site.

He also ripped the DEC for historically refusing to publicly disclose much of its findings, adding such lack of transparency “imperils public health” because “untold number of people” have been exposed to harmful vapors for years — if not decades — while being “kept in the dark.”

A DEC spokesman said once all data from testing is collected and validated it will be shared with property owners and tenants, and then the state will release a report outlining its findings — but without naming the sites found to have unsafe air to protect people’s privacy.

He could not immediately provide a project timeline.