Boerum Hill

A Brooklyn factory, once the city’s top polluter, will close after 89 years

Ulano was once liable for nearly 20 percent of NYC’s toxic air pollution

April 5, 2019 Scott Enman
The outside of Ulano Corporation at 110 Third Ave. has no signage. Eagle photo by Scott Enman
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A Boerum Hill company that in 1988 was named the city’s top air polluter, accounting for roughly 17 percent of toxins released into the city’s sky, will shutter after 89 years in operation.

Ulano Corporation, which creates chemical products for the screen printing industry, was the largest toxic chemical emitter in the city that year, according to a New York Times article that cited a Consumer Policy Institute report.

The piece notes that 66 companies were responsible for two million pounds of 48 different toxic chemicals in the air in 1988. Eight of them accounted for two-thirds of the total pollution, with Ulano coming in at No. 1.

“It’s safe to say historically, for many years, this company was one of Brooklyn’s largest localized sources of toxic air emissions,” Eric Goldstein, co-author of “The New York Environment Book,” told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, they were being pressed by government agencies to install additional pollution controls.”

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A WARN notice published on March 13, 2019, stated that the 110 Third Ave. location, which is the company’s manufacturing and corporate headquarters, would begin a “phased cessation of operations” starting on July 1 and continue for 36 months. All 45 employees will be laid off.

Ulano Corp. declined to comment for this article, but an employee at the business told the Eagle that the company is relocating to Texas and that they could not disclose any other information.

Joseph Ulano, who started the company in 1930, is credited with inventing the film stencil after immigrating from Russia. The business’ website says it’s the “world’s largest completely integrated manufacturer of screen printing stencil systems.”

“Back in 1999, the company was bought by [a German-Swiss holding company], so the Ulano family sold out, and that might explain the decision to move,” Goldstein said.

“Everyone wants to protect good jobs, but you shouldn’t have to trade off decent jobs for protecting children and health. In many of these situations it’s the workers who are most exposed to these pollution sources.”

Ulano Corporation was the largest toxic chemical emitter in New York City in 1988. Eagle photo by Scott Enman
Ulano Corporation was the largest toxic chemical emitter in New York City in 1988. Eagle photo by Scott Enman

In Goldstein and Mark A. Izeman’s book, published in 1990, Ulano is mentioned as one of the city’s top polluters of the toxic chemical toluene.

Ulano “is a major discharge of volatile organic compounds (over 700 tons in one recent year, according to unverified state records),” Goldstein and Izeman wrote. “And at least as of 1987, it was the city’s largest source of the toxic pollutant toluene.

“For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state have been seeking through administrative action to get the Ulano Corporation to install state-of-the-art controls. EPA reports that some progress is being made. But as of late 1989, the legal proceedings, and the pollution were continuing.”

The Times article mentioned in 1990 that Ulano was scheduled to start using an incinerator that could reduce its emissions by 95 percent.

Other leading toxic emitters from the Consumer Policy Institute report included these Brooklyn companies: Swingline Inc, Tekni-Plex Inc., New York Hardboard and Plywood Corporation of Brooklyn.

The Institute said that its 1988 report was the “first such estimate made for New York City alone.” It’s unclear if any other studies with facility-specific pollution calculations have been carried out since.

Seventeen facilities in Brooklyn are required to report to the EPA how many toxic chemicals they release. Toxics Release Inventory data for 2017 revealed that the 17 companies emitted a total of 80.6 thousand pounds of pollution into the environment. The Brooklyn Navy Yard’s cogeneration facility gave off the most waste in the borough with 71,442 pounds of toxic chemicals.

While it’s unclear exactly how many toxic chemicals Ulano has emitted in recent years, the fact that it is not listed on the TRI suggests that the company has either changed its practices, added more pollution control equipment or moved some of its operations to another facility.

Ulano last reported to TRI in 2006, meaning the company likely did not emit enough pollution in the last 13 years to have to advise the EPA. The business has reported for two different addresses: 280 Bergen St., which is connected to 110 Third Ave., and 601 Bergen St., a smaller facility 15 minutes away from its main headquarters.

It only reported one chemical, Toluene, for its last few years of report submissions.

The New York State Department of Environmental Protection could not supply any information on Ulano’s pollution history.

New York City has consistently been ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the nation. In 2018, it was listed as the 10th most ozone-polluted city, according to the American Lung Association.

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