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Construction Dust May Pose Health Hazard at Greenpoint Playground: Experts

By Serena Dai | September 22, 2014 8:56am
 Local officials worry dust containing lead has accumulated at unsafe levels at Greenpoint Playground.
Sludge Tank Demolition Dust May Pose Hazards, Experts Say
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GREENPOINT — Dust kicked up by city construction near a playground on the Greenpoint waterfront contains potentially hazardous materials, experts and advocates say.

The demolition of a sludge tank, which was used by a wastewater treatment plant for a century, kicked up clouds of dust onto nearby homes and the Newtown Barge and Greenpoint playgrounds last month.

Now, local officials and advocates are calling on the city's Department of Environmental Protection to perform tests that will fully assess the impact of the dust, which is supposed to be watered down to prevent spreading.

"People are being unnecessarily exposed to the things that they shouldn’t be exposed to," said resident Laura Hoffman, also a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee.

The city took several measures to mitigate problems, including spraying water during the demolition, spraying on debris and installing a gravel runway to the demolition zone, a DEP spokesman said in a statement.

The spokesman said the crew was always careful to have a firehose on the site during the demolition, which ended weeks ago. He also said a contractor hired by the DEP sampled the air for hazardous materials and found none.

"It didn’t appear dusty to me from what our photographer documented," the spokesman said.

But at least one family that declined to be named said that the air was "horrible, thick and unbreathable" from dust. And Hoffman said the crew didn't have enough water and didn't spray it high enough to contain all the dust.

"They had layers of dust on their cars," she said. "It was going into their homes."

Two local families, including Hoffman's, paid for an independent test by Brooklyn College's soil testing service after one family started feeling sick.

The test found 40 parts per million of lead and various other chemicals, including chromium, zinc and arsenic, in the dust.

The college and several experts told DNAinfo New York that the chemical levels were "not alarming" in a single instance — but extended exposure could cause problems, particularly for children.

Additionally, if the soil in the nearby playground absorbed the dust, children could potentially be exposed to an elevated, unsafe level of lead, experts said.

And breathing in too much dust in general — chemicals or not — can be extremely irritating to lungs, they said.

"You wouldn't want to have children exposed to the dust at even these fairly low numbers," said Howard Meikle, a Tulane University professor who has extensively studied urban environments and chemical impact on health.

"Over time, the accumulation taking place would be a concern."

Councilman Stephen Levin's and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol's offices have both seen the Brooklyn College test and they're concerned if any level of lead settled in the park.

"If they’re disturbing anything and it’s going into the air, we at least want to know what’s going on," said Cathy Peake, Lentol's chief of staff. "You want to make sure for the playground that there's not any kind of lead contamination."

Tests still need to be done to verify whether the accumulative effect of lead, zinc and other metals have impacted the community, Hoffman said

"Wherever there's building, there's contamination," she said. "We're being exposed over and over again. In general, our environmental agencies and health agencies aren't doing their job to protect human health."