Study Set For Far Rockaway Toxic Waste Site
By Howard Schwach
Keyspan Energy and the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will soon begin a comprehensive study of an industrial site in Far Rockaway that was once used as a Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP), which, company officials say, may have left a toxic mix of chemicals and carcinogens in the soil.
The site, at 12-00 to 12-24 Brunswick Avenue manufactured gas from coal from about 1890 to 1909, the company says. The gas was used for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.
Now, the company is worried that the byproducts of that gas production might have contaminated the soil under the commercial building that covers the site.
"The production of manufactured gas produced byproducts may have remained on the site long after operations were closed and the plant demolished," a prepared Keyspan statement said. "These byproducts include chemical constituents that are known to be potentially harmful to human health and the environment." And, while a company spokesperson declined to comment on exactly what chemicals might reside under the ground, she did say that they are similar to those left behind when the MGP plant on Beach 108 Street and Beach Channel Drive closed in the mid-1950's.
"Material found in the Rockaway Park site are similar [to what is in Far Rockaway] in that they are what you would expect on an MGP site," said Diana Parisi, a spokesperson for Keyspan Energy. "A preliminary site assessment found materials that would be expected at an MGP site and that report was turned over to the DEC." In December of 2002, a Keyspan Energy expert called the Rockaway Park site a "toxic washing machine" that included benzene, cyanide, tar, toluene and other chemicals.
Parisis said that despite the existence of toxic material under the Far Rockaway site, there is little danger to those who live or work in the area.
"The preliminary site assessment found no imminent risk of harm to people entering or working at the site in its current use," she said. "There appear to be no open pathways through which persons on or near the site could be exposed to the potentially harmful materials that may be on the site. If there are no exposure pathways, then there is no risk to human health."
The Far Rockaway site now holds a large commercial building that was used by transport companies such as Eagle Transportation and Schwaben Express to house its trucks and to serve as a warehouse.
At present, the building appears to be empty. The remedial investigation will begin in June, Parisi said. The initial field work is expected to take at least three months. The full investigation is expected to take about one year and then a plan for cleaning the site, if necessary will be developed by the company and the DEC. The study on the Rockaway Park site, a Class II Toxic Site," began in September of 1998 and continues today. While some buildings on that site were recently demolished, none of the necessary cleanup procedures have yet taken place, although a spokesperson for the DEC said that the cleanup would begin "shortly."
Parisi said that Keyspan "is committed to working with the public and its representatives," and that "it's too early to schedule a public meeting, such meetings will be held as the process progresses."
Keyspan has established a telephone hotline for neighbors of the site to ask questions and leave comments. That number is 718-403-3007.