Discovery of asbestos stalls controversial Gravesend waste transfer station construction

March 16, 2017 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Asbestos alert.

Work on the controversial South Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station – a project that has been protested time and time again both before and after its groundbreaking – has been put on pause after workers at the site removing an underground concrete duct bank unearthed what has since been confirmed to be non-friable asbestos containing material (ACM).

Community Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia informed residents at the board’s March full board meeting of the discovery earlier this month.

“Work was immediately halted and the disturbed areas were immediately covered,” Elias-Pavia said at the meeting, held on Thursday, March 9 at the Bensonhurst Center for Rehabilitation & Healthcare, 1740 84th Street, also noting that signs were installed in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Lab tests done the next day, Elias-Pavia said, confirmed the presence of ACM,  which is properly defined as “any material that contains more than one percent asbestos by weight or area.”

“The area will remain secure and undisturbed until a licensed asbestos abatement subcontractor can remove the concrete duct bank in accordance with the approved asbestos removal plan,” she said, stressing also that, prior to implementing the removal plan, notification will be given to both the board’s office and to the affected businesses adjacent to the site as to when the work to remove it will take place, and just what will be done to extract it safely.

Furthermore, Elias-Pavia said, the affected area “will be surfaced with heavy duty asphalt.”

Assemblymember Bill Colton, a staunch opponent of the project, said, “What’s happening here is everything that we predicted would happen.” The city, he stressed, “Never issued a certification of closure for the cleanup work that they supposedly did when they closed the incinerator. They never issued any certification that the asbestos and chemicals were removed and safety disposed of. Now we find out that there’s asbestos. It’s an example of how the city is just rushing to complete this project, in total disregard of the safety of the people of this community, and of the environment.”

The construction of the waste transfer station, which community leaders and residents have vocally opposed but which the city insists is an integral part of its overall solid waste management plan in which each borough is supposed to handle its own trash stream, requires dredging at the problematic site – once home to the former long-loathed Bensonhurst incinerator, that was found to be operating without a permit from the 1950s through the 1980s, and which left behind it a variety of toxic substances in the water.

Unexploded munitions at the bottom of Gravesend Bay are another issue that has plagued the project, which nearby residents and businesspeople also contend would overburden the already congested area with even more truck traffic.

This is not the first time work on the site has been given the red light.

Work was temporarily halted in November, 2015 by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) after elected officials notified the agency of toxic overflow into Gravesend Bay resulting from city-mandated work at the site.

The toxic sludge — said to contain contaminants such as Class C acutely toxic levels of dioxins, lead, mercury, chlordanes and Mirex (an ant killer insecticide banned by the EPA in 1976) — was dropped into the bay, according to a video supplied to Colton, while workers were transporting dredged sediment and soil from the bottom of the bay to different locations.

Colton’s office – which in the process of protesting formed an Anti-Waste Task Force – forwarded the video to DEC, which temporarily stopped the dredging so that an investigation could be conducted.

Then, in July 2016, a six-foot long section of metal blew off the site after a heavy storm, nearly hitting two parked cars and two people on the property adjacent to the station, an incident that did not stop construction, but sparked even more community outrage.

The battle against the proposed transfer station has been ongoing for about a decade now, with local politicians and Bensonhurst residents alike claiming that the station would violate the Clean Water Act.

And, Colton, for one, has not given up. With this latest problem, he said, he is going to push again for full disclosure.

“We’re going to fight this,” he told this paper, “by, first, insisting that the work be stopped until they produce proof that when they cleaned up, or supposedly cleaned up, in 2004 and 2005, the work was done properly and the contaminants were properly disposed of.

“They will not produce that certificate,” Colton continued. “They keep saying that it’s okay and that everyone is doing everything right. This, again, is proof that they did not do everything right, and that they should not proceed with any work on this site until they provide proper, physical proof that that cleanup was done and done correctly. We don’t just want their word anymore. We want proof, documentary proof, of what is done. The city is putting people in this area in severe risk. It’s not enough to simply say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.’”

Contacted for comment about the work stoppage, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Design and Construction, which is handling the project for DSNY, told this paper that it would keep the community and community board involved going forward. “We’ll continue to keep [the community board] informed, and continue to work with them. We always have the community in mind and always make it a point to keep them involved,” said Shavone Williams.

According to DSNY, the station’s construction is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year and is slated to be operational by spring, 2018.

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