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Paint fumes from Brooklyn Bridge have locals breathing uneasy

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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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Reader Feedback

Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
The fumes are pretty intense. Definitely wouldn't linger.
Nov. 18, 2011, 11:57 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
I don't understand it, so it has to be bad!

I have no evidence, but stop while I bang my highchair!

Paint? It smells. Smoke? It smells and it's bad for you except if it comes from a hookah bar.

Tell the superstious whiners that it's an art project and everything will be fine.
Nov. 19, 2011, 9:15 am
Paul A. from Bay Ridge/Ft. Hamilton says:
The joggers, bikers & walkers should just have the common sense not to use the Bridge until the paint/slovents have dried if they have a aversion to the fumes. Did you ever walk into a freshly painted room and expect it to smell like roses? Instant gratification again! Would you rather the BRIDGE not be painted and allowed to rust and corrode? Don't have any maintenance work be done because it interferes with peoples routine? Common sense seems to have taken a holiday.
Nov. 19, 2011, 11:41 am

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