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More than 20 buildings in Brooklyn contaminated with toxic fumes linked to cancer and other diseases

'24.06.2024'

ForumDaily New York

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The iconic church that once hosted the wedding of American gangster Al Capone, as well as 20 other sites near Brooklyn's toxic Gowanus Canal, are in need of a major cleanup. Tests showed high levels of air pollution, reports NYPost.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) discovered the carcinogenic fumes in late April. They leak out polluted soil into the basement and parish church of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Carroll Gardens.

Interesting moment

However, experts recorded a phenomenal phenomenon: the air in the 173-year-old house of worship became clean. Now where the native Brooklyn Capone married his wife May in 1918 and held masses before taking over the Chicago crime gang. The air has also cleared at the private school next door. She rents premises from the church.

On the subject: How to find out the water quality on New York beaches

In September, the state examined about 100 neighborhoods in and around the canal, where thousands of people live and work, to determine how many sites were contaminated.

On June 20, the agency confirmed that it had tested 131 of 626 facilities, with 21 levels of hazardous chemicals in the air found to be above "acceptable."

Substances that cause cancer

Experts declined to name the locations that tested positive for toxicity. But the Court Street Church was listed in a letter sent Tuesday, June 18, to parents of International School of Brooklyn students.

Joe Santos, the school's administrator, told parents the facility had been "completely cleared." But "elevated levels" of tetrachlorethylene, a cancer-causing chemical, were found in parts of the rectory and church next door.

The rectory, located at the corner of Court and Luquer streets, about three blocks from the canal, no longer has priests.

But the building is regularly used by church employees. They will be temporarily relocated until experts take steps to remove harmful fumes by ventilating underground contaminants.

The church plans to update its parishioners about the ongoing cleanup during masses this coming weekend.

Hazard in soil and air

Seth Hillinger of the advocacy group Voice of Gowanus called the results "very concerning." They show that the underground pollution plaguing the eastern side of the canal has also reached the bustling Court Street commercial district to the west.

This is a favorite place for mothers with strollers and gourmets.

“It's one thing to hear that Gowanus is polluted, but it's another thing to hear that carcinogenic fumes have now reached Carroll Gardens, an area that's full of children and young families,” he noted.

DEC began its investigation in September. The department was hit with a barrage of criticism. Officials waited nearly two years to warn the public about carcinogenic fumes that were nearly 22 times the amount considered safe. These couples escaped from the contaminated soil into a popular shuffleboard club.

Now, the Royal Palms club on Union Street in Gowanus is considered “safe.” But a nearby building, which the agency refuses to publicly identify, found high levels of trichlorethylene. This is an industrial solvent that can cause cancer and Parkinson's disease. According to tests carried out last year, its level was 450 times higher.

Other buildings near the canal are former manufacturing sites.

They saturated the soil with toxic coal tar (tar).

Over the last century, much of the coal tar has leaked into the canal. It is one of the country's most polluted waterways.

Environmentalists believe coal tar and other toxic substances are moving underground through waterways leading to the canal.

Criticism of DEC

Walter Hung heads the Ithaca, New York-based environmental database company Toxics Targeting. He said he believed the 21 properties that tested positive represented only a "small fraction" of areas along the canal suffering from toxic fumes. The system is "imperfect" because it only tests "a few" parts of each building, rather than the entire site.

Hang criticized the Department of Environmental Protection for historically refusing to publicly disclose most of its findings. This lack of transparency “puts public health at risk.” “Huge numbers of people” have been exposed to harmful fumes for years — if not decades, Hang said.

A DEC spokesperson said once all testing data is collected and verified, it will be shared with property owners and renters. The state will then release a report outlining its findings, but without identifying the locations where toxic air was found to protect people's privacy.

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