Bronx High School Site Toxic Bonanza
Ohanian Comment: This would not happen on the upper-crust East Side. Or the tony West Side.
Loral Electronics - on whose former site the city hurriedly opened a new South Bronx high school in September - was generating thousands of pounds of hazardous waste per year before shutting down its operations in the late 1990s.
State Department of Environmental Conservation records obtained by the Daily News show that in 1997 alone, Loral generated more than 11,000 pounds of hazardous waste at its Soundview manufacturing facility along the Bronx River.
Included in that year's waste were 5,374 pounds of industrial solvents, 507 pounds of mercury, 100 pounds of lead and 14 pounds of cadmium.
Many of the same heavy metals and organic chemicals that Loral generated, especially TCE and PCE - chlorinated organic chemicals most commonly found in solvents - have now shown up in contaminated soil and ground water at the Soundview site.
Even worse, the contaminants are finding their way into the air that students at the new Soundview Educational Center are breathing.
As this column reported last week, the Department of Education's own March 25 tests of indoor air at the high school found elevated levels of TCE and PCE in the school's classrooms and cafeteria. Even higher levels were detected below the foundation of the building, a sign that the vapors may be migrating through the school's concrete foundation.
Both TCE and PCE can cause brain and kidney damage, and long-term exposure can lead to cancer.
Despite all this troubling information, top city school officials say the school is perfectly safe.
The argue that all the contaminated soil around the school has nothing to do with the thousands of pounds of toxins Loral once generated there.
The heavy metals in the soil and ground water are the result of dirt fill brought in decades ago, officials have told worried neighborhood residents who opposed the opening of the school.
"This company generated a really boggling array of hazardous waste," said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting Inc., an Ithaca, N.Y., company that specializes in collecting data nationally on hazardous waste sites.
Throughout the 1990s, the 11-acre South Bronx facility, which made aircraft components for the Defense Department, produced an average of 4,000 pounds a year in hazardous waste, including PCB-contaminated oils, state records show.
But Loral officials were never very good at keeping track of all those chemicals until stricter federal reporting requirements came into effect in the late 1980s.
"Company is very unorganized," noted a state inspector in one August 1983 DEC report. "Currently no one appears to be keeping track of what [hazardous waste] is generated, what happens to it and where it is stored."
In 1996, Loral's defense business was acquired by Lockheed Martin Co., and the South Bronx plant was closed the followed year.
According to the city's analysis of its March 25 indoor air tests, the elevated levels of TCE and PCE detected are "unlikely related to any historical release from previous site operations."
That is sharply disputed by Mathy Stanislaus, an independent environmental expert hired by the Concerned Residents of Soundview.
"There's a demonstrated public record of the production of hazardous waste at the site," Stanislaus said. "So when you look at the source of contamination, that must be the start of your inquiry."
But City Hall and the Schools Construction Authority quietly leased a portion of the Loral site in March 2004 and then approved a rushed environmental impact statement before even notifying the public about plans for a new school there.
When residents and local leaders demanded more testing before the school was opened, City Hall refused.
Now Bloomberg's top school aides have circled the wagons. They refuse to admit they chose a horrible site for a school.
"The students must not go back to that school in September unless the city cleans the whole site up," local state Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. said yesterday. "If this was any other neighborhood, they would have done it already."
New York Daily News