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New York officials testing neighborhoods near the Gowanus Canal for potentially toxic air, soil


GOWANUS, Brooklyn (WABC) -- New health concerns that affect residents along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn are being investigated.

An environmental database firm, called Toxics Targeting, found levels of air toxins inside one building near the Gowanus Canal to be 450 times the State Health Department's recommended threshold.

The firm also found high levels of toxins in nearby soil.

With new construction in the area, residents are concerned it could be unleashing new issues or contributing to old ones.

Seth Hollinger, a long-time resident of Gowanus, wonders what the recent explosion of development in the neighborhood, which is a superfund site, will do to the chemicals buried deep in the soil.

A superfund site is a location polluted with hazardous materials.

Hollinger's group, Voice of Gowanus, has teamed up with Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database firm to uncover the data about toxins in the area.

"It seems like common sense that you would build and clean land first. But that doesn't seem to be the case and it's of great concern not only for building, but for existing residents," Hollinger said.

Since last September, the Department of Environmental Conservation has quietly investigated about 100 blocks for contamination including testing the soil and air.

"One property called 'Property Two' had 900 micrograms per cubic meter of trichloroethylene in the indoor air. The allowable amount is only two micrograms per cubic meter," Water Hang of Toxics Targeting said.

The chemical trichloroethylene has been linked to Parkinson's Disease.

Hang said the state knew, but did not warn the public.

"We're telling the governor that every single property within a thousand feet of every Brownfield has got to be investigated and then mitigated to protect public health," Hang said.

DEC Interim Commissioner Sean Mahar addressed concerns during a press conference on Monday.

"Obviously, what you're seeing play out here is a coordinated federal, state and local push to address legacy contamination in the area," Maher said. "EPA is in charge of the canal cleanup remedy, and we are overseeing brownfield and state Superfund cleanups throughout the area as well. And all that is being done in direct coordination with all the entities with the work underway. And obviously, we take great pride and keeping the community informed of all the work that is underway."

To address the community's concern regarding soil vapor intrusion from the industrial legacy of the Gowanus Area, DEC is completing a Gowanus Area Wide Soil Vapor Intrusion Investigation.

Currently, the owners/tenants of approximately 100 properties agreed to allow New York State to test their indoor air as part of the Gowanus Canal area-wide SVI study.

A map of the Gowanus Canal Area SVI Investigation is available on the DEC website

NYSDEC released a statement regarding the Gowanus Canal:

The Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are committed to keeping the community informed of current actions on this and other State cleanups. In the Gowanus Canal area, the agencies have released numerous community updates (available on the DEC website Gowanus Canal Area Sites - NYSDEC); held two community availability sessions; regularly engages and presents information to citizens groups including EPA's Community Advisory Group, legislators (see here), and other meetings as requested; and this week will be posting an extensive Frequently Asked Questions document, among other resources.

DOH and DEC contact each property owner to relay the results of the sampling event and to discuss whether mitigation is warranted. Property owners were notified of the tenant notification law. Specific soil vapor intrusion (SVI) results from private properties, which are not under an agreement or order with the DEC, are shared with building owners and occupants but are not shared publicly because of privacy considerations. While SVI results from 543 Union Street indicated the need for immediate action, there were no detections in occupied parts of the building close to the cited level. Upon receipt of the SVI sampling results, DEC implemented immediate action in the 543 Union Street building to address SVI concentrations within occupied spaces. Long-term engineering controls to address SVI at 543 Union Street (managed by U.S. EPA in coordination with DEC and DOH) and other properties are being implemented with close oversight by DEC and DOH.

In 2023, DEC referred the 543 Union Street property indoor air mitigation program to the EPA's Removal Action Branch. EPA has since taken several actions to reduce contaminant levels in indoor air at this property. The analytical results of recent indoor air samples collected from the building indicated that the concentrations of TCE in the occupied units are well below both the DOH's and EPA's action levels and protective of public health.

Additional questions regarding 543 Union Street should be directed to the EPA.

The Voice of Gowanus says the test results should be more widely distributed to the public so residents know which areas to avoid, calling for more testing and more transparency.