2003-06-18 / Front Page

Toxic Sites In Queens Likely To Cause Serious Illnesses

By John Toscano

New York City residents who live near what are known as Superfund sites, abandoned land contaminated by toxic waste or chemicals known to cause serious illnesses, may be more likely to suffer from a debilitating illness, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said on Sunday, standing near one such site in Sunnyside.

Until two years ago, New York state had a program to clean up these sites, 16 of which are in Queens. But money ran out and Gotbaum points the finger at Governor George Pataki for not continuing to fund the program.

"For two years," she charges, "the governor has been sitting on his throne allowing the problem to continue." Meanwhile, the results of a study of the 38 Superfund sites throughout the city show, she said, that "every extra day spent living near a toxic Superfund site could increase health risks for New Yorkers. Governor Pataki must put an end to this ASAP."

Gotbaum said her office’s investigation looked at information from the most recent Community Health profiles compiled by the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to determine if the communities where these sites are located suffered from a higher incidence of health conditions associated with toxic waste.

"We found," she stated, "that all of the 21 communities where Superfund sites are located have higher instances of respiratory diseases, cancer, asthma and birth and early infancy complications. In the nine communities with two or more Superfund sites, residents were at an even higher risk for these illnesses.

According to the Gotbaum study the 16 Superfund sites in Queens are:

•Bayside–Fort Totten, Willets Point Boulevard.

•Breezy Point–LILCO, Rockaway Park, Beach Channel Drive and Beach 108th Street.

•College Point–College Point Oil Lagoon, 123rd Street and 31st Avenue.

•Edgemere–Edgemere Landfill, Beach Channel Drive and 49th Street.

•Glendale–Kliegman Brothers, 76-01 77th Ave

•Hammels–London–French Dry- Cleaning Company, 85-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd.

•Jamaica–Idlewild Construction Waste Landfill, Rockaway Boulevard, and West Side Corporation, 107-10 180th St.

•Long Island City– Quanta Resources, 37-80 Review Ave.; Amtrak-Sunnyside Yard, 39-29 Honeywell St; Roehr Chemicals, Inc., 52-20 37th St.; Standard Motor Products, Inc., 37-18 Northern Blvd, and National Rubber Adhesives, Inc. 38-31 9th St.

•Maspeth–Phelphs Dodge Refining Corporation, 42-02 56th Rd.

•Queens Village–Deknatel (Pfizer-Hospital  Products), 96-20 222nd St.

•Richmond Hill–Ozone Industries, 100th Street between 101st and 103rd Avenues.

Gotbaum said the list was provided by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a public watchdog organization.

Recently, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) called on the state Environmental Commission to cleanup the Quanta Resources site. She said the present situation has continued for years without efforts to begin a cleanup "This is unacceptable," she declared.

Nolan said it remains unclear whether a responsible party exists for the Quanta cleanup. "In such cases as Quanta," Nolan said, "where the public has been waiting for years for a cleanup, the government should step in and perform the cleanup while it takes action to locate the responsible party and make him pay."

Nolan said she has supported legislation in Albany for the state to proceed with Superfund site cleanups when a responsible party cannot be found.

Examples of certain geographic area sickness breakdowns were given:

In Flushing–Clearview, the average yearly rate per 100,000 for breast cancer in adults 65 and older citywide was 373, the area average was 415, 11 percent higher than the rest of the city.

In the same area, the citywide average for death per 100,000 people from chronic lower respiratory diseases in adults 65 and older was 133, the area average was 139, five percent higher than the city at large.

In Western Queens, the average rate of hospitalization per 100,000 for acute bronchitis and bronchiolitis in kids younger than 9 was 408 citywide, and 523 for the area. An average of 28 percent higher than the city.

In the Long Island City–Astoria area, the average yearly rates for lung cancer per 100,000, adults ages 45 to 64 is 81 citywide and the area average is 89. For adults 65 and older the citywide average is 280 and the area average is 297. These figures are from 6 to 8 percent higher than the city.

Statistics also showed three times as many deaths on average from chronic lower respiratory disease in the adult category age 45 to 64.

Queens communities with more than one Superfund site include Western Queens, Rockaway, Long Island City and Jamaica, Gotbaum said. Health statistics in these communities, she said, revealed higher than citywide average rates of the following conditions:

–Infant mortality and low birth rate in Rockaway and Jamaica,

–Bronchitis and bronchiolitis hospitalization in Western Queens, and

–Colorectal and breast cancer in Rockaway.

Gotbaum said the need to refinance the state Superfund is clear. Since Superfund went bankrupt two years ago, she said, of the bills introduced to refinance it, environmentalists have largely backed bipartisan legislation calling for 75 percent of the new funding to come from industry fees while maintaining the program’s tough standards. But these bills failed to win approval.

This year, in a spirit of compromise, new bills were introduced. In the Assembly, a Democratic bill which passed would provide $200 million a year in bonding to refinance Superfund, with cleanup expenses to be shared equally between the public and businesses, Gotbaum said.

"This would provide sufficient funding to cleanup all known Superfund sites over the next 10 years," Gotbaum declared.

In the Republican Senate, the majority passed a bill in March which uses the governor’s Superfund refinancing plan without incorporating many of his reforms that would weaken the Superfund cleanup program, the public advocate said.

Both houses are currently negotiating to see if they can agree on a single bill, which they would pass this year.

In a statement issued on Monday, the governor said, "We must enact meaningful legislation to refinance our Superfund program so that we can continue our aggressive efforts to cleanup contaminated properties. By resolving this issue today, we can continue to protect the environment and public health, as well as provide new opportunities for municipalities to cleanup these brownfields and spur new economic development."

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