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Local group voices concerns about air quality near polluted Gowanus construction sites

Environmental group calls for action on polluted Gowanus Canal
Environmental group calls for action on polluted Gowanus Canal 02:21

NEW YORK -  Gowanus residents are concerned over air quality issues coming from construction sites next to the Gowanus canal Superfund cleanup.

The strip of Smith Street near Huntington Street is the site of several construction projects on the banks of the notorious Gowanus canal, a Superfund site currently undergoing cleanup. Watchdog residents from a local group are keeping their eyes on the area. 

"They lay the foundations, people complain they smell it and we know what that is, we know what's there," says Martin Bisi, a member of Voice of Gowanus and owner of a nearby recording studio. 

The highly polluted sites, known as brownfields, are overseen by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Developers there are operating under a state-approved remedial action plan which includes air monitoring. One morning, on July 27, kids in a playground across the street reported a foul odor lingering in the area. 

One of the kids in the park that day was 10-year-old Rory Smith. He said it smelled "like chemicals, something you know is unnatural." When they went back to the school building, he added "we could smell it in the classroom and in the courtyard."

He told his mom, Marta Schaaf, who brought him to report the issue to Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon's office, a few blocks away. 

"I actually have a doctoral degree in public health, so I'm familiar with the science around environmental health and was concerned about what he and the other kids at the camp had been exposed to," Schaaf tells CBS2's Hannah Kliger.

NYSDEC did confirm to CBS2 that on July 27, volatile organic compounds exceeded acceptable levels at the construction site located at 240 Huntington St. The work had to be halted and they applied foam to prevent public exposure. 

"It is frightening to people because this is right next to a Superfund site," says Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

A spokesperson from NYSDEC responded in a statement which read, "DEC is closely overseeing the cleanup of the 240 Huntington Street site and ensuring compliance with the State's stringent requirements to protect public health and the environment while work is underway." 

Residents, however, say finding out after the fact isn't enough. 

"Why isn't our community being alerted in the same way that their construction workers are?" asks local parent Seth Hillinger, also a member of Voice of Gowanus.

"I'd like to see much greater transparency from our agencies working in the Gowanus neighborhood in a moment of continued construction and as we head into the Gownus rezoning," says Councilmember Shahana Hanif, whose office has also been involved in the ongoing conversation. 

Monadnock Development, the company building at that site, responded in a statement, saying in part: "The community air monitoring program is scientifically designed to avoid any exposure that is dangerous. Work must be stopped when there is exceedance inside the site. The oversight program worked exactly the way it was designed." 

Some residents also said they smelled similar odors at a nearby site in May, but NYSDEC says there were no air quality exceedances recorded at that time. 

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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