13 October 2009

Are BQE Bridge-Cleaning "Lead Shacks" Poisoning Carroll Gardens?

OK, time for a little reactionary journalism, because, frankly, I feel a reaction is called for.

You may recall me wondering out loud last week what those humungous green metal casks were doing hunkering down on the Union Street, Sackett Street and Kane Street overpasses bridging the BQE in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. The ones with the fencing around them and the giant rubber hosing leading under the bridges. The ones with the charming "Hazardous Materials" signs on them.

After I posted that, a neighbor informed me that the horrendous contraptions were there to remove lead from the bridges so they could be painted anew. Yikes! But, OK. I guess that sort of thing has to be done. Soon after, I found this August post on the DumboNYC site mentioned similar work being done there last summer. To wit: "The existing protective coating will be cleaned and/or removed through abrasive blasting techniques. A new, epoxy-zinc protective coating system will be applied to all steel superstructures."

Right. Again, I guess this needs to be done. But two major complaints. One, the "Lead Shacks," as my wife calls them, were poorly roped off from the public. Any mischievous kid could have climbed all over them with ease. Two, there was no notification of the public about the project. No leaflets, mailings, anything. No even an explanatory missive pasted to the side of the boxes.

I'm think, perhaps, the Dept. of Transportation received some similar complains from the public, because, by last Friday, the Union Street box was encased in the lovely plywood housing seen above. An improvement, I suppose.

This weekend, I witnessed some workers fiddling around with the two-ton waste crate, hauling it onto a truck. Good, I thought. We'll be rid of the thing and its contaminants.

But, no. They just drove it to the other side of the bridge and unloaded it again.

Then, sometime later, they rolled it back to where it was and rebuilt the plywood house around the eyesore. WTF?

This is all annoying, to be sure. But something else began catching my attention this weekend that is more than annoying. It's disturbing. For the last few days, I've walked down my stairwell and into the area around my building's front door, and thought, "Is it dusty? Or is the light especially dim today? Or is my eyesight getting worse." The air seemed hazy, or dirty, like someone has recently been beating a rug in the vestibule. I observed it day after day. It didn't change. Then I started to notice the same sort of muddy atmosphere in my apartment. It was subtle, but it was there. My wife noticed it, too.

But my wife also observed something more alarming. She drew my attention to the door jambs in our apartment, along the edge of which a fine, black dust was gathering, like a ring around a bathtub. I do not typically jump to conclusions about health and environment related matters. But it was hard for me not to connect the sudden bad air quality and the black dust to the recent arrival of the Lead Shacks. We called 311, but were given the runaround (an operator kept asking if what we were seeing around the doors was not, in fact, an oil spill), and left a message.

If anyone else in the area of the Lead Shacks has detected a change in the area, please comment and let it be known.


Anonymous said...

Just to clarify- the containers are in place to put paint scrapings that may contain lead.

Joanna Cerazy said...

Lead paint is used for industrial construction. It is favoured in these structures because it is resistant to corrosion and it expands and contracts with a metal surface without cracking. For these reasons, lead is used to paint outside structures such as bridges. If eaten or digested, chips and dust derived from leaded paint pose a serious health risk. The stripping and sanding of old paint produce lead particles that can be inhaled or swallowed. On occasion, whole communities have to be relocated when old bridges are repainted as huge amounts of lead dust get released into the air.
If you want more info on the kind of damage lead causes and what to do to protect yourself from its harmful effects, visit www.nomoreleadbabies.com.

enodo said...

You can buy lead paint test kits for less than $20. I bet you could get one at a nearby hardware store.

Here's a Consumer Reports review of a few of them:


You might want to test the dust you and your wife are seeing.

Anonymous said...

I saw what I assume was an air quality testing box set up on Baltic Street (near corner of Hicks). It was hooked up to a generator.

Last couple of nights they turned it on at 11 and turned it off and hauled it away sometime during the night.

Jill said...

You might try calling the DEP directly during business hours and bypass 311, you might get a better response.