Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Whole Foods Brownfield

Inspired by a recent post by Bob over at The Gowanus Lounge about an "oozing hole in the ground that has stalled progress on the Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street," I did a little poking around to see what I could find out about the origins of said oozing hole.

What did the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have to say when they approved Whole Food's plan to clean up the brownfield?
"The Whole Foods Market site is located in an urban portion of Kings County, NY. The 2.155-acre site is on the southern side of 3rd Street, approximately 30-feet west of the 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue intersection. The site is bordered on the south by 4th Street Basin (Gowanus Canal) and the 3rd Avenue, on the north by private owned real property and 3rd Street, on the west by private owned real property and the 4th Street Basin, and on the east by 3rd street and 3rd Avenue. The closest residential area is believed to be on 4th Avenue. The site formarly consists of several interconnected buildings and an open rear area that borders the Gowanus Canal. It is zoned as "medium manufacturing" in a commercial area. The buildings prior uses that appear to have led to possible contamination include a coal yard, oil company, junkyard and auto repair business. All buildings has been demolished. The completed investigations include a Phase 1: Environmental Site Assessment (2003) and Phase 2: Environmental Site Investigation (2004). The Brownfield Cleanup Agreement (BCA) was executed on April 25, 2005. As of this update the Remedial Investigation Work Plan, Interim Remedial Measure for the Underground Storage Tanks removal Work Plan, and the Interim Remedial Measure for Soil Excavation Work Plan has been approved and are under implementation.

Type of Waste Quantity of Waste

Exposures via drinking water and soil are not expected because this mixed industrial/residential neighborhood is served by public water. The property owner performed an interim remedial measure which removed the grossly contaminated soils. The Preliminary Site Assessment documented that subsurface soils and groundwater are contaminated with volatile organic compounds, semi volatile organic compounds, and chlorinated solvents. The area of contaminated soil is fenced preventing access by the public. NYSDOH and NYSDEC will evaluate the need for additional investigations to d
etermine the potential for soil vapor intrusion into structures on or near the site."
So basically, they know the soil is contaminated, and that the worst of it has been removed. They're fine leaving what's left because they're not expecting anyone to have contact with the contaminated soil or water. That doesn't sound so pretty. Let's hope Whole Foods don't rinse their organic veggies with canal water.

Contaminated with Naphtha-what, you ask? Naphthalene is manufactured from coal tar and is the primary ingredient in mothballs. The CDC says that exposure can damage your red blood cells. It is classified as a possible
human carcinogen by the EPA.

Xylene, although a toxic chemical that can cause
dizziness, confusion, and problems with balance at high levels, evaporates quickly from soil and surface water into the air, says the CDC. Wikipedia adds:
"Besides occupational exposure, the principal pathway of human contact is via soil contamination from leaking underground storage tanks containing petroleum products. Subsequently humans may come into contact with the soil or groundwater may become affected, which, if used as a water supply could lead to health effects of ingesting contaminated water."
There have been a number of spills and environmental contaminants in the vicinity of the proposed Whole Foods lot since 1978, the first year of DEC's on-line database. You can find all of these by searching the DEC's database.

I sea
rched the DEC database for addresses along the Third Street/Gowanus corridor, and organized the information into a map that I've titled Dirty Gowanus. The info in it:

  • At 220 3rd St. on 5/03/2005, there was a spill of unidentified material.
  • At 175 3rd St. on 9/05/1997, there was a petroleum spill into the soil.
  • At the Third Street Yard at 3rd Ave/3rd St., on 10/16/1996, there was a spill of "volatile organics" from a gasoline station into the soil.
  • At 200 3rd St. on 5/19/1997, there was a spill caused by "tank test failure."
  • At the NYNEX property at 175 3rd St., on 5/31/1994, there was a spill of approximately a pound of gasoline into the soil caused by equipment failure.
  • At 175 3rd St. on 10/14/1992, there was a spill of approximately a pound of waste oil into the soil caused by overfilling a tank.
  • On 12/09/1994, there was a spill of 270 gallons of fuel oil into the Gowanus Canal at Sackett Street.
  • There were also reports of small petroleum spills into the Canal on 6/03/1986 at the 3rd Street Bridge and on 9/07/2000 at 2nd Street.
Leaking Underground Storage Tanks
  • DEC reports that there is a Leaking Underground Storage Tanks at 175 3rd St.
  • There is an Underground Storage Tank at 175 3rd St. owned by NYNEX (unclear whether it's the same as the leaking tank in the item above).
  • There is a Leaking Underground Storage Tank at 200 3rd St. Leaking Underground Storage Tank at the Third Avenue Yard at 3rd Ave/3rd St.
Chemical Storage Facilities
  • There is an Underground Storage Tank holding Petroleum Bulk Storage at 160 3rd St. which is listed as temporarily out-of-service.
  • NYNEX has four Underground Storage Tanks holding Petroleum Bulk Storage at 175 3rd St.
  • Red Hook Crushers at 186 3rd St was certified as a Solid Waste Facility/Landfill.


Anonymous said...

Still so much to this story.

The Whole Foods site is currently in the "Investigation" phase of the State Brownfield Cleanup Program.
Their State Brownfield Cleanup "Remedial Work Plan", that is the plan for how they will do their cleanup, has not yet been approved by the DEC.

The DEC rep for this project, reports that a DEC Fact Sheet on the project is due out in the next month. That Fact Sheet will announce the "Remedial Work Plan". Under the state program this is when remediation work is to begin and spells out the standards for the work.

We should all note, form the condition of the site, that remediation is already under way even though the remediation plan hasn't been approved by the DEC.

They borrowed a procedure from the Supperfund cleanup program called an IRM--Interim Remedial Measure, which allowed work to begin before actual remediation standards are set under an approved Remedial Work Plan. The IRM allowed the contractors to remove contamination from the site without the constraints of the Remedial Work Plan. The work is being overseen by the DEC employees in Albany.

A community meeting was requested with the DEC this winter near the site to discuss concerns. At that meeting the community was told that information on the site contamination, including measures at the water's edge and air vapors, would be made available to us as soon as possible. To date no data has been released.

The interesting part of the meeting was the discussion with the State Health Dept officials about the level of cleanup needs to be achieved at this site. As an M-2 zoned site, those standards don't require much of this cleanup--even though food production is the intended use.

Ongoing ground water considerations and the nearby sewage outfalls are not considered in the program, which brings up the question of how sustainable will a brownfield cleanup of this site be if remediation stops at it's boarders?

Under this DEP cleanup program the State of NY --the tax payers--will be covering up to 25% of the cost of the development (which includes the cleanup). Is this the best way to spend our public funds for cleanup? Will we get a sustainable environmental cleanup for that cost? Is this the environmental thing to do on this site? And in the end, don't we prefer to buy our foods along our pedestrian friendly streets like Court Street or 5th Ave?

hl67 said...

I saw a documentary recently about the city of Rome and how, each time they dig to create a new subway access, they strike an archeologically valuable site and have to preserve it and start digging somewhere else. This is in stark contrast to some of our more modern cities, where, when we want to dig, we need to remove underground storage tanks or decontaminate the land from its uses in just the last 100 years. It's a remarkable difference.

DENICE said...

Brownfield can be really useful for commercial purpose for these I heard about Key Environmental Inc .Do you have any idea about it?