Wednesday, December 02, 2020

EPA's Head Engineer For The Gowanus Canal Superfund Clean-Up Confirms Community's Concerns Regarding Environmental Remediation Of Public Place Site

A revealing, and frankly explosive conversation took place at last night's Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) Zoom meeting in regards to Public Place. Thanks to Christos Tsiamis, the engineer in charge of the Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal, residents finally got a better idea of how polluted the site really is and learned that the proposed cleanup by New York State simply is not thorough enough.

Public Place, the almost 10 acre swath of land, framed by the canal and Smith Street and 5th Street and Huntington Street in Carroll Gardens has been heavily polluted for decades. Once the site of a Manufacturing Gas Site, coal tar plumes have been found at depth of 153 feet.

As part of the proposed Gowanus upzoning,  Mayor de Blasio and our Council member Brad Lander envision 950 units of affordable housing on Parcels I and II, which are city owned.  More housing is planned on the privately owned  Parcel 3.

The site is currently being remediated by National Grid under New York State's Department Of Environmental Conservation under the Brownfield program. The remediation can hardly be called a clean-up. It would be more appropriate to call it a containment, since most of the coal tar will remain forever deep in the native soil.

Just recently, the Carroll Gardens/ Gowanus community learned that  DEC had allowed National Grid to significantly alter and degrade the remediation, sparking concerns that future residents would be exposed to the remaining contamination.

To address this issue, the Land Use Committee of the Gowanus Canal CAG proposed a resolution last night, asking EPA to review and comment on DEC's changes to the remediation of Public Place. (It passed overwhelmingly)

Christos Tsiamis was in attendance at last night's meeting and was kind enough to engage in a conversation on the subject of Public Place. Since he has been studying the contamination of the canal and the uplands since 2009,  he is in a unique position to compare DEC's previous clean-up plan versus the new  downgraded one. It quickly became apparent that he has some grave misgivings about the changes.

Tsiamis, who holds a master's degree in chemical engineering from Columbia University, familiarized himself with reports on Public Place from the beginning, since coal tar from the site is one of the major source of pollution into the Gowanus Canal. The EPA is very protective of their Superfund clean-ups, so that any site, like Public Place, which has the potential of recontaminating the canal,  is rigorously scrutinized.

Christos Tsiamis, project manager for the EPA Superfund Cleanup of the Gowanus Canal

Last night, he recapped NYS DEC's 2007 reports on what was then a voluntary clean-up plan by National Grid.
Back then, the remediation called for 
-the removal of 8 feet of soil on the entire site
-the removal of all  remaining gas holder structures 
-a sealed bulkhead wall at the canal's edge to prevent coal tar from continuing to flow into the canal
-recovery wells to pump the coal tar that will collect behind the wall out of the ground for off site disposal
- the installation of a High Density, heavy plastic liner 2 feet below grade throughout the site as storm water management to prevent rain water absorption, which could dislodge the deeper, remaining pockets of coal tar.
- two water treatment systems to clean the rainwater from the site so it can can be discharged back directly into the Gowanus Canal
-two 'wings' or wall extensions along 5th Street and Huntington Street to prevent coal tar to ooze out of the site onto nearby land.
- 8 feet of clean backfill and regrading of the land.

According to Tsiamis in 2010 the design documents still very much reflected the remediation steps that were in the original documents.  However, by the time the final design was approved and finalized in 2017-2018, the clean-up was being supervised under the Brownfield program and had changed significantly. Gone was the waterproof liner, gone were the two water treatment plants, and gone were the 'wings'. Tsiamis' own Region 2 administration signed off on the design while he was on vacation.  
During subsequent conversations with National Grid and DEC, he was able to at least make sure that the water  treatment systems were added back in.

Tsiamis spoke honestly to the community about his concerns that the current DEC remediation actions will not be sufficient.  In his professional opinion, the coal tar plumes will continue to migrate and collect in front of the barrier wall.  It will likely also find a way to move off site since tar can easily move sideways and choses the path of least resistance.  He envisions the need for more recovery wells to collect more of this toxic viscous material, and suggests that the deeper pockets of tar be stabilized  with a cement like material, very much like what is being employed  as part of the Gowanus Canal remediation.

Since the waterproof liner is no longer part of the plan, Tsiamis is concerned that stormwater infiltration on Public Place will dis-lodge more coal tar. The issue needs to be looked at carefully since Gowanus Green, the planned residential development at Public Place is supposed to move 100% of its stormwater back into the canal.  

More than anything, he warned about the exposure to the fumes discharging from the site.  As long as nothing is built on Public Place, PAHs, the volatile compounds in coal tar, will dissipate into the air.  However, build structures over the site, and dangerous gases like Naphthalene can infiltrate through the foundation, into buildings.

Tsiamis mentioned a meeting he had a few years ago with Michelle de la Uz of the 5th Avenue Committee, one of the five Public Place developers, at which he warned that a planned day care center on the site was right next to the recovery wells and the barrier wall. He thought that  the particular location was perhaps not the best spot to house a center for small children.
At a subsequent meeting, the center had been moved closer to Smith Street on the plans.  
To his dismay,  a school building is once again planned in that first location, were coal tar will be pooling behind the barrier wall.

Tsiamis' honesty on the subject of Public Place last night was a gift to the Carroll Gardens and Gowanus community.  No one at New York State DEC or New York City's Environmental Protection Agency have fought as hard for our safety and heath.
For that, we should be very grateful to him.

Now that we have the knowledge that he shared with us, it is up to us to hold our City and State, as well as our elected officials responsible.  It is up to us to make sure that no one is placed in harms way and that this is the last generation in this neighborhood exposed to dangerous chemicals.

To view a video of the entire meeting, click here.


Anonymous said...

Given how volatile these revelations were last night (and I agree with you - it was astonishing that this is all coming to light only now), it's strange that press outlets with reporters in attendance have not yet filed stories. The meeting majorly undercuts the storyline from the city, the developers, and Lander about how Public Place will be fine. The community is being sold out and getting far less remediation/protection than it should.

Then you have our local Community Board yakker who very deviously gives an update in his mass email about innocuous moments in the CAG meeting as if nothing of note happened last night, intentionally trying to blunt the impact of the Tsiamis revelations. "Nothing to see here, folks" as MR sloshes the carcinogenic coal tar back behind the curtain.

Katia said...

You got it.
Honestly, CB6’s Mike Racioppo should be fired for his editorializing on this subject in his daily newsletter.
We are talking about human lives here. And the health of an entire community.
And I still believe that Gowanus Green should be named Landerville, so that we never forget who pushed this evil science experiment.

Susan Y said...

Here's information about the city's rezoning of two areas, Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn originally and their final outcome that increased higher incomes, overpopulation with no infrastructure increase in schools, hospitals or transportation facilities. If we allowed city rezoning to take over Public Place, the same problems will occur accordingly:

Anonymous said...

Mike Racioppo is a plant for the developer agenda, plain and clear. I once sent him a link for a government health report of Gowanus - CB6 does encompass Gowanus, and I know from talking with neighbors that this is something that they wanted to know about. Well, Racioppo never responded, and did not include it. He'll include warm and fuzzy looking ":news" and events in his newsletter from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy and other developer friendly entities. I unsubcribed to that rag he calls a community newsletter,. It's worse than worthless. It's part of a propaganda arm to further Lander and developers chomping at the bit to exploit Gowanus.

Anonymous said...

Gowanus Green is not obligated to build a park or a school. Those amenities rely on imaginary future City funding and commitment. At least 4th Ave. developers will be REQUIRED to improve subways to build 20% more housing. The "school bonus" allows private schools to be built without using precious floor area for housing so that's just another developer gift.

Katia said...

Agreed! The original plan called for the developer to add a school and a park on the site. New York City has now assumed responsibility for both. Which means both are not going to happen for a good long time since the City claims to have no money right now. At least that is the excuse NYC DEP used when it told EPA it needed yet another extension to build the retention tanks that would keep sewage out of the canal.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:17 AM; Please read the GNCJ "demands". All that was requested is the City commit to fund a few improvements to NYCHA apartments. GNCJ doesn't ask for a public school to help their children escape the cycle of poverty. GNCJ doesn't ask for park land so their children can play, exercise and avoid childhood obesity. The City is giving the Community what they asked for - wait for the "big reveal" of NYCHA funding this summer!

Anonymous said...

GNCJ, do you really want 100% housing on arguably the most toxic site in NYS, a site that can/will never be fully remediated? " As long as nothing is built on Public Place, PAHs, the volatile compounds in coal tar, will dissipate into the air. However, build structures over the site, and dangerous gases like Naphthalene can infiltrate through the foundation, into buildings."

Anonymous said...

CB6 is DeBlasio and Lander's rubber stamp for developers. Put up a building on top of a open sewer and all the hipsters will come running as long as you call it "Green"

Anonymous said...

8:53 The use of "green" is used to deny the environmental dangers of building on top of this land - the proposed development is not for "hipsters" but for those who truly need affordable housing, and there is even a school proposed. It's literally "Green"washing. And it is criminal.

Unknown said...

Can Voice of Gowanus and others organize a candidate forum around the Gowanus with those running for Lander and Levin's current positions?

Anonymous said...

Please keep reporting on this subject!

You are doing a great service to the community!

Thank you

Your truly,
Friends of Open New York