United States

Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal Under Investigation For Toxic Vapours

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is investigating around 100 blocks near Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal for cancer-causing vapours and other hazardous substances.

Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal Under Investigation For Toxic Vapours
info_icon

State officials are quietly looking into about 100 blocks in and around Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal to see if they are contaminated with cancer-causing vapors and other dangerous substances. The investigation by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) began in September after people raised concerns that the state waited almost two years to tell the public about cancer-causing vapors in a popular shuffleboard club.

Air-quality tests at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club on Union Street now show it's safe after steps were taken to reduce harmful fumes. But many other buildings in the area, where lots of people live and work, still have high levels of toxic substances.

One building had levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) — a chemical linked to cancer and other illnesses — that were 450 times higher than what's considered safe. Another building at 543 Union St., which houses 22 businesses, had TCE fumes dozens of times above safe levels in tests done last year.

Many of the neighborhood buildings used to be factories that left toxic coal tar in the soil. Over time, this coal tar leaked into the canal, which is one of the country's most polluted waterways and is being cleaned up under a federal Superfund program.

DEC's Acting Commissioner Sean Maher says the agency is committed to helping property owners in Gowanus test their buildings and fix any pollution problems.

But residents say they're upset with DEC and other government agencies for not being open about the dangers and worried about their health.

"This should be about stopping cancer and making sure people aren't breathing in this stuff and getting sick," said Seth Hillinger from the Voice of Gowanus group.

He and others say DEC didn't tell the public about the high levels of TCE until Toxics Targeting, an environmental database company, found documents buried on the agency's website.

The investigation could be slowed down because some property owners don't want their buildings tested. They're afraid bad test results will lower property values or mean they have to tell tenants about pollution risks.

Joan Rodriguez, who lives at President and Bond streets, let DEC test part of her basement in November. Her home was found safe, but she's still worried about construction near the canal.

She and others are concerned that new buildings are being approved without a full cleanup of toxic substances like coal tar.

DEC says it makes sure big construction projects check for pollution risks and don't make the area more dangerous.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement