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Toxic timebomb! State sues chem company for PCBs under Red Hook Park

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State authorities have discovered “unacceptable” levels of cancer-causing chemicals near Red Hook Park — and the villain is the same company recently fingered by the feds for fouling the Gowanus Canal.

The levels of PCBs in the groundwater under the park near Court and Bay streets are a whopping 110 times higher than environmental agencies consider safe, according to a lawsuit against Connecticut-based Chemtura Corp., which operated a chemical plant at the dirty end of Court Street for four decades.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has discovered at least eight other chemicals, including known carcinogens like benzene, near the park.

“Contaminat­ion in or near the recreation area is at unacceptable levels from a human exposure perspective,” wrote Judith Schreiber, a chief scientist with the attorney general’s environmental bureau, in an April 22 affidavit filed in Manhattan federal court.

Court papers note that PCBs were found in soil near the park seven to eight feet underground, and also on “surface level,” and in groundwater samples.

The chemicals can flow in groundwater under nearby homes, causing “vapor intrusion” according to the court papers, putting children, the elderly and pregnant women at risk.

“This is a clear and continuing threat to human health, public safety and the environment,” an agency engineer said.

Clear, perhaps, to the scientists, but not to the public, which has not been informed of the toxins lurking ever so close to the surface of a park that is home to weekend soccer games.

The state has known about dangerous violations at the Court Street site since the 1990s, but has kept residents in the dark.

“If it was such a danger, they should have advised us previously,” said John McGettrick, the co-chairman of the Red Hook Civic Association. “What did they know and when did they know it?”

The Parks Department said it has received no word from the state about any potential pollution at the Red Hook parcel. The agency was also never notified of any environmental testing in the park.

“If there is concern, usually we would be informed right away,” a Parks spokesman said. “We would certainly like the opportunity to review the test data.”

Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman was a bit less diplomatic.

“If the state is not sharing information with their city counterparts, than it seems they are not acting in the best interests of the public,” he said.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a class of organic compounds once widely used in a host of industrial applications, particularly favored by the electrical industry as coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and capacitors, but used in an array of products, from paints to adhesives.

In 2002, Chemtura had begun sealing leaks from cracked and deteriorating tanks at its now-shuttered manufacturing plant, but the company halted such work after finding PCBs in 2007, saying it needed further investigation.

The clean-up resumed, and continued until 2009, when the company filed for bankruptcy and told the state it was suspending clean-up activities at the site, which at one time contained 100 chemical and waste storage tanks, which have since been removed.

The contaminated groundwater is not affecting public drinking supplies, the state insisted.

But state environmental spokeswoman Maureen Wren said that “there is no question this is a contaminated site and … the responsible party [must be] held accountable.”

The state agency is not alone in pressuring plastics additive maker Chemtura — the Environmental Protection Agency has named the company as a potentially responsible party in the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal, which will carry a price tag of $1 billion. The company is disputing that claim.

Chemtura did not respond to a request for comment in time for our acidic online deadline.

Updated 5:18 pm, July 9, 2018
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