Concerns about cancer-causing chemicals released by a massive warehouse fire that is still smoldering on the Williamsburg waterfront are overblown, officials said at a town-hall meeting on Monday night.
Health, fire, and sanitation department officials gathered to tell Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents not to worry about the smoke that blanketed the neighborhoods for several days as the fire raged in the CitiStorage facility on Kent Avenue between N. 10th and N. 11th streets. The toxicity was limited to the first day, Jan. 31, and is a drop in the bucket compared to all the foul stuff Brooklynites breathe in every day, a health department honcho said.
“The air was unhealthful for a day, but these are the kinds of events that happen throughout the year as a result of us being bathed in air pollution,” said Daniel Kass, a deputy commissioner for the department.
The meeting was called in response to outcry from activists who said the city botched the response by waiting 14 hours to notify locals to stay indoors with their windows closed. Kass acknowledged that was a screw-up.
“The air quality was bad earlier in the day and it would have been better to get that advisory out earlier,” he said.
The agitated locals are also demanding the city test for dioxins, which are carcinogenic, in the ash left by the fire. But officials said that the chemicals are everywhere, and would show up in tests whether or not there had been a fire. That didn’t satisfy one organizer.
“We do not want to just hear that it is okay,” said activist Emily Gallagher, a board member of the group Neighbors Allied for Good Growth.
A petition calling for the city to investigate its response to this fire and to develop new major-fire-response protocol going forward has garnered 1,761 signatures. It also demands that the city record and publicize air-quality data. Gallagher said the data is key to understanding toxins’ long-term effects.
“We want actual data so that we know what is safe now and what will be safe 10 years from now,” she said.
Fire officials at the meeting said it will be several more weeks before investigators determine the cause and origin of the fire.