Gowanus toxic plume targeting Park Slopers
An underground cloud of toxins that has already invaded the future home of the Whole Foods supermarket, is moving from the industrial neighborhood along the Gowanus Canal toward Park Slope, an engineer told state officials this month.
Dangerously high levels of benzene — a gasoline byproduct that can cause cancer if it is inhaled — have seeped into the soil below the Third Avenue site where Whole Foods is building its first Brooklyn store.
The engineering report traces the Whole Food site’s toxins to a canal-front parking lot and fuel station owned by Verizon at Third Street, a block west of the epicurean grocer’s future home.
“[High levels of benzene are] most likely related to [that] gasoline source located off-site,” said the report, presented by Whole Foods to the state Department of Environmental Conservation as part of its two-year-long, state-supervised cleanup.
A call to Verizon was not returned.
The underground toxins don’t present an immediate threat to neighbors, according to DEC. But the public health costs could be high if the movement of chemicals isn’t stopped.
“Benzene causes cancer,” said Patricia Culligan, a professor of civil engineering at Columbia University.
“The bigger the [contaminated area], the higher the probability that people will come into contact with it.”
The benzene detected on the Whole Foods site is not the first sign that toxins are traveling towards some of Brooklyn’s most-desirable residential areas.
Last year, Keyspan engineers detected benzene-laced groundwater traveling west towards hip Smith Street from a former gas production plant at Fourth Street and the canal.
Still, state environmental officials don’t know how large the latest cloud of toxins is, or how far it has traveled.
“We are still determining the significant threat determination,” the engineering report stated.
More than 11,000 tons of “petroleum contaminated soil” has been removed from the Whole Foods site since March, 2005, when the company began its cleanup.
An engineer for the grocer said this week that the new toxins would not impede the ongoing cleanup.
“A plan will be implemented to make sure that there are no harmful vapors or dust leaving the site,” said engineer Samuel R. Haydock.
Whole Foods still plans to open in 2008, according to the cleanup plan.
The Brooklyn Papers
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