Toxins? What toxins?

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Some toxic soil along the Gowanus Canal cannot be cleaned — but don’t worry, the increasingly hot properties nearby will still be safe for some people to live on, state engineers said this week.

“It would be impossible to dig out the contaminants in their entirety,” Gardiner Cross, a Department of Environmental Conservation engineer, told Community Board 6 on Monday.

Cross was on hand to share his cleanup plan for the so-called “Public Place,” a former gas manufacturing plant on the west bank of the canal, a site that many in the neighborhood hope to see redeveloped.

Cross and other environmental experts said the toxins will remain, but will be too far underground to pose a health hazard.

“The cleanup will be sufficient to support virtually any development,” he said.


A quirk in state environmental law prevents formerly industrial sites from being redeveloped with farms or single-family homes — though, oddly, apartments and condos are allowed.

The ban on farms is obvious, but the ban on single-family homes caused a stir at Monday’s otherwise calm meeting.

“So renters can live there, but not homeowners?” asked Celia Cacace, a fiery CB6 member.

Yes, and here’s the reason: individual owners are less likely to report changes on the site that could damage the underground barriers that keep contaminated soil from moving, Cross said.

“We don’t want someone digging in their backyard for a swimming pool, or doing work on the basement without being careful of what’s down there,” Cross said.

The DEC engineer is now directing cleanup of the former Keyspan gas plant, a large site bounded by Fifth, Hoyt and Smith streets. The long-shuttered plant is in the early phases of a cleanup slated to result in the development of a public park and a mixed-income housing complex (see main story).

One area resident, Marlene Donnelly, said she was comforted to hear that the land could be redeveloped, but worried about the safety of her own single-family home close to the canal on Sackett Street.

“There are reasons that they barred single-family housing and farming from the site,” she said, ruefully.

Updated 4:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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