Paint fumes from Brooklyn Bridge have locals breathing uneasy

Paint fumes from Brooklyn Bridge have locals breathing uneasy
Ooh that smell: Neighbors say that the paint being used on the Brooklyn Bridge really really stinks.
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet

Ooooh, that smell!

The Brooklyn Bridge is getting a brand-new paint job that will take until 2014 to finish — but pedestrians are already griping about mysterious, nauseating fumes that defy the city’s assurances that they’re not toxic.

“It makes it harder to run and definitely makes me light-headed,” said Julia Braun, a Brooklyn Heights resident who jogs across the iconic bridge daily. “It just can’t be good.”

Over the past month, tourists and commuters have complained of a powerful odor that stretches from the Brooklyn to Manhattan entrances of the pedestrian promenade, where “wet paint” signs and tarps cover steel railings.

A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said that the agency would continue to monitor the smell, but officials also said they didn’t know what was causing the chemical stench.

“They paint bridges all over the city, but it appears to be stronger here and they don’t know why,” said Community Board 2 District Manager Rob Perris, who has been fielding local complaints.

The coating began last June as part of a $508-million restoration of the 128-year-old bridge — a project that will repaint every inch of steel with “Brooklyn Bridge Tan” to prevent corrosion.

Paint experts say that the pungent smells aren’t harmful — so long as tourists don’t gawk on the bridge for extended periods of time.

“[The smell is] noticeable, but I’ve never heard of anybody getting physically ill from a project,” said Tony Serdenes, vice president of GPI Coatings Group, a firm that recently revamped a historic suspension bridge in Kentucky.

Serdenes said that contractors can’t enclose the spray painting completely because the lattice-like steel creates holes where vapors can get out.

“There might be some minor areas that are releasing the solvents just a little bit more than usual,” he said. “It’s an inconvenience, but it shouldn’t be an issue.”

But hikers and bikers are skeptical that the stink is harmless.

Jeff Schuhrke, 29-year-old Chicagoan, visited the bridge for the first time last week and sat on a bench reading a book.

“It’s nauseating and it has to be a safety hazard,” he said. “But I’m not sure what you can do about. Maybe just walk past quickly.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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