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Toxic Chemical Cleanup Begins Soon Near Proposed Queens High Line

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | April 12, 2013 2:40pm

QUEENS — Toxic waste cleanup will begin soon at a former aircraft manufacturing site in Queens — right near the abandoned rail line that advocates hope to turn into a park similar to Manhattan's High Line.

The site, located beneath the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR line, was used by Ozone Industries until the late 1990s, and the soil there is contaminated by trichloroethene, or TCE, officials said. The chemical is commonly used as an industrial solvent and has been linked to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The contaminated area, between 99th and 100th streets and between 101st and 103rd avenues in Ozone Park, is a Superfund site. It will be cleaned by End Zone, an Ozone Industries successor, which has been working on the cleanup plan with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. AECOM, an engineering consulting company, will also participate in the work.

The cleanup is expected to begin in mid-May or June and will take about three to four months, said David Austin, project manager for AECOM, at a recent Community Board 9 meeting.

Board members and local business owners expressed many concerns about the air quality in the area during the cleanup. They also wanted to know whether the chemicals have spread beyond the cleanup site.

Austin said that the company only tested the area marked by the state environmental agency. He also said that air-monitoring systems will be put in place to ensure that there won’t be unsafe levels of chemicals.

But despite concerns about the ability to remove all of the waste, the plan was cheered by backers of the proposed QueensWay, who want to transform the rail line into the borough's version of the High Line.

Last year, the project received a $467,000 grant for a feasibility study from the state. The analysis will estimate the cost of construction and check the structural integrity of the tracks. But it will also look at any potential contaminants along 3.5 miles of the abandoned Rockaway Line, which used to connect Forest Hills and Rego Park with Richmond Hill and Ozone Park before it closed in 1962.

“Probably the only real contaminants are from Ozone Industries,” said Andrea Crawford, a CB9 member and a supporter of the QueensWay.

“End Zone is going to clean it up,” Crawford added. “It helps us because it means that we wouldn’t have to do any cleanup.”

The Trust for Public Land — an organization working on developing the project — recently issued a request for proposals to find a company to conduct the study. 

Marc Matsil, New York State director for the Trust for Public Land, said Thursday that more than 50 companies have already expressed an interest in the feasibility study, but no proposals have been submitted yet.

The QueensWay project faces opposition from various groups and elected officials including Queens congressmen Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries who propose to reactivate the train service instead.