Friday, May 21, 2010

City Says Red Hook Ballfields are PCB Free (Tuesday, May 25th UPDATE: Maybe Not)

The Brooklyn Paper, via the reporting of Gary Buiso, who has been on this story from the beginning, is saying (story here) that the City has done testing on the Red Hook Ballfields' soil, digging 18 two inch holes into the ground closest to the now defunct Chemtura factory that adjoins the fields, and has "declared the grounds safe".

The Courier story states,

"None of the samples revealed PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, the once-ubiquitous compounds that were banned in the 1970s after they were discovered to cause cancer."

The news will be welcomed by the Red Hook community and others who regularly use the fields, however, some are still a little skeptical of the City's assurances, perhaps understandably, considering the experience with the Albany based DEC and their poor communication regarding the PCB spill that they said was leaching into the Ball Fields site, taking nearly 10 years to inform the City and Parks Department of their findings. (my post here)

That skepticism was noted by Pete Morales, a regular park user and co-commissioner of the Red Hook Little League, who is quoted in the article.

“It’s very difficult for us to trust the city, particularly with everything that has been dumped on Red Hook,” he said . “The trucks, the cement plant — things we learn about in the last moment. I would like to see more testing.”

Hopefully, better communication, the dissemination of some more factual information and a transparent process will alleviate those concerns.

Meanwhile, this weekend, the excellent Latin American food prepared by the vendors at the Ballfields and the associated "Red Hook Mercado" on Van Brunt Street keeps on coming.

UPDATE: Tuesday, May 25th. According to further reporting from the Wall Street Journal, (here) there is some further skepticism about the City's statements about the safety of the Red Hook Ballfields because the City's definition of a safe level of PCBs differs from the State's definition.

Dr. James Cervino, a scientist who performs environmental analysis for development projects in the city, referring to the fact that the State's DEC statements about contamination at the ballfields contradict the recent findings by the City after their inspection of the site, is quoted as saying that "the discrepancy stems from different criteria applied by city and state when analyzing soil samples for contamination."

The story continues -

“The chemical criteria — the allowance limits for chemical contamination — are much stricter with the state Department of Environmental Conservation than with the city agencies,” Cervino said. He noted that state standards, not those of the city, apply whenever a contaminated site is designated for Superfund or brownfield status. “I would like to see the city’s methodology,” he said. “How many samples did they take? How deep did they go?”

Another possible reason for the discrepancy, raised in the article, could be the difference in the locations from which the City took the samples of soil - they said they took them from the ballfields closest to the Chemtura plant - whereas the findings from the State's DEC state that the samples were taken from sites "in or near" the recreation area. The WSJ speculates that this could be enough of a difference to account for the discrepancy in findings concerning the PCB levels.

Obviously, it's worrying that two different agencies - one State based and and from the City - are reporting such different results.

The City's statement says, “tests on soil samples from Brooklyn’s Red Hook Recreation Area show no evidence of contamination with PCBs.”

Compare that to the State DEC's previous statement that the park's soil contains "110 times the amount of PCBs considered safe."

I think the WSJ gets it right the last paragraph of the article -

"Until the city’s full report is released and reviewed independently, it won’t be possible to dig deeper into the discrepancy between the city and state findings in Red Hook."

Meanwhile ...... our kids are having field day close by, the Latin American Food vendors are continuing to serve their fabulous food and picnickers are sitting on the ground eating while people are playing soccer ....

Time to clear this up, don't you think?


  1. I appreciate your concern about this issue!

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