Helter shelter: City to build haven for homeless families on toxic site, say activists

toxic trap?: A Neptune Avenue site that once hosted a toxic dye factory is slated to become a shelter for homeless families, worrying some locals.
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The city is pressing forward with plans to build a family homeless shelter on a toxic site in Coney Island, and locals say doing so endangers the very women and children it’s supposed to protect.

“They’re talking about bringing kids into a safer environment, but that shelter is on a site with a toxic history,” said Charlie Denson, executive director of the Coney Island History Project.

Shelter operator Women in Need still plans to begin construction of the 200-unit facility early next year based on what Community Board 13 charges is a sloppy and incomplete environmental assessment commissioned by the Department of Homeless Service of a property that once hosted a polluting dye factory and garage for garbage trucks.

For much of the 20th century, the shelter site housed the Brooklyn Yarn Dye Company, which poured toxic aniline and hexavalent chromium into Coney Island Creek, according to Denson.

The site at Neptune Avenue between W. 22nd and W. 23rd streets was also previously used as a Department of Sanitation garage for truck repairs, city records show, which local environmental activist Ida Sanoff said means that its soil could also contain traces of Mirex, an insecticide frequently used in Sanitation facilities until it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1978. And the property was later used as a large dental clinic where dentists mixed silver and toxic mercury to make dental amalgam to fill cavities, according to Sanoff.

But the property’s environmental assessment — by Aecom, a private engineering firm — did not mention the site’s past history as a dental clinic, nor did it address the full scope of the building’s history as a dye factory, according to Sanoff, who was invited by CB13 to present her concerns at its Nov. 29 board meeting at the board’s request.

The assessment also failed mention that after the dental clinic flooded in Hurricane Sandy, its operator, Coney Island Hospital, decided to re-open it in a new location a half-mile away because the original site — in the words of a representative at the Nov. 29 meeting — was “too toxic.”

Sanoff detailed her concerns in a Nov. 27 letter outlining the environmental report’s inaccuracies and omissions that she sent to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, and Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), among other officials. She said her review of the environmental assessment proves that the assessment was hasty and sub-par.

“There were all of these inaccuracies in the environmental assessment. They did the minimum of what they had to do. They just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible, do the bare minimum, and that was it,” said Sanoff, the executive director of the National Resources Protective Association. “And I think the community that lives here was owed a lot more.”

Sanoff is concerned not only for the families who would live at the new, seven-story shelter, but also the people living in the surrounding area, who could be exposed to toxins stirred up during construction — not least through contamination of the nearby community garden, where locals grow fruit and vegetables.

“I’m concerned about what’s going on with the construction and the excavation,” she said.

The district manager said that the city should commission another, more complete environmental assessment to address locals’ concerns.

“They should do a complete environmental assessment so there’s no information left uncovered,” said Eddie Mark.

Women in Need — which is run by former Council speaker Christine Quinn — was not directly involved in the environmental assessment of the property, according to a spokesman, who said construction would not begin until the area was deemed safe and the environmental assessment approved.

But the city signed off on the environmental assessment in accordance with standard protocol, according to Department of Homeless Services spokesman Isaac McGinn, who added that the department was confident in Aecom and “their evaluation that this location meets all applicable environmental standards.”

Aecom did not return a request for comment about Sanoff’s letter by press time.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said through a spokesperson that it was reviewing Sanoff’s letter.

Treyger said he wants officials to answer Sanoff’s points.

“I would like to see the relevant city and state environmental regulators weigh in and provide expert analysis of these findings and address the concerns raised in the letter to ensure the safety of residents in this community and of this proposed facility,” he said.

McGinn said that the department plans to form a Community Advisory Board — as it does for each new shelter it opens — so that any interested local community members can address concerns as they arise and ensure the facility is integrated into the community. But McGinn said the board would not become active until the facility opens.

Sanoff doubted that another community board would make any difference.

“Why are they forming a Community Advisory Board when we have a community board?” she asked.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

D.I from C.I says:
Aside from the pollution which is a major issue,

Let's not forget W.I.N has NOT submitted an evacuation plan for this site. They are considering placing hundreds of women and children at this location. Coney island is the front lines for flooding. How will they transport hundreds of people at moments notice? In an emergency, seconds matter. Where will they place hundred of people to wait out the storm? How long can they sustain a secondary location while damages to the shelter in Coney Island are being made? None of these questions were asked towards W.I.N. This is a disaster in the making.

W.I.N should avoid jeopardizing the lives of Women and Child and build a shelter in another neighborhood, preferably one not one in a High-Risk flood zone.

You can tell a lot about a society on how we treat the worst off. What does placing homeless women and children on a polluted cite in a high-risk flood zone say about us? Shame on Christine Quinn.
Dec. 15, 2017, 10:35 am
Anon from C.I. says:
D.I. from C.I has a good point. Aside from the important environmental issues. There's that issue of relocating all those people in that zone 1 or zone A flood zone. Those streets even flood during major rain storms, which they seem to be working on which is another controversy. Before Hurricane Sandy, a year before that, Tropical Storm Irene hit the streets there. No major damage but streets did flood. Before that the storm in 92' did some decent damage to homes there too. Not Sandy proportions but people were out of their homes for about week.
Dec. 15, 2017, 2:08 pm
Laura Henze Russell from multiple says:
Good reporting. There is also another story. Every dental office that doesn't have not only a wastewater separator, but the equipment recommended by the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology's (IAOMT) Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique (SMART) protocol, is a toxic waste site. The building which housed the Northeastern University Dental School in Boston took several extra years of hazardous waste site cleanup before it could be safely occupied by other university programs.

Sadly, every child, teen and adult's mouth with dental amalgam is a hazardous waste site. I developed serious health problems with laboratory-confirmed mercury toxicity from a lifetime of dental amalgam going in and out of various teeth, partially removed and replaced, but also left under new crowns, and newer high-copper amalgam in a couple of bicuspids.

I was never told it was 50% mercury, or told of its potential health risks, which vary by age, gender, genetics, and cumulative and synergistic exposures. Tiny amounts of mercury offgas with biting, chewing, grinding and heat. If you don't methylate (clear toxins) well, it binds tightly to electrons in your cells instead of being excreted, causing harm and triggering a range of chronic diseases.

Why are there no required labels, right to know information, or written informed consent when it comes to dental fillings and devices, which are 24/7/365 exposures? This is a good question with a simple answer: follow the money.

Protect these women and children from mercury and other toxic exposures on this site. And as other nations are banning, restricting, warning, and phasing out dental amalgam - but the U.S. is not - protect all of us, too.
Dec. 15, 2017, 2:16 pm
Freya Koss from NYC says:
I also was harmed by mercury in silver amalgam dental fillings. Seven days after being exposed to mercury during the drilling out of a silver dental filling I developed neurological symptoms and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Myasthenia Gravis, three life-threatening autoimmune diseases. I hadn't been warned by my dentist that silver amalgam dental fillings contain 50% mercury, a known neurotoxin. Dental offices and clinics are known sites of toxicity and extremely harmful to humans, animals and the environment. It is not only irresponsible but down right criminal to house women and children in a known toxic site. Mercury not only is extremely harmful to humans of all ages, but to the unborn. Mercury inhaled by a pregnant woman exposed her unborn child to mercury toxicity, which has been scientifically proven to cause developmental symptoms such as seen in children diagnosed with the autism spectrum. Shame on those in charge who are pushing this under the carpet rather than creating a safe haven for the unfortunate. Please take heed and protect rather than harm. Freya Koss, Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry
Dec. 15, 2017, 11:08 pm
S.B. from Coney Island says:
Clearly the environmental concerns must be addressed and there is no need to usurp the authority of Community Board #13. In addition Coney Island has done more than its fair share in supporting the social service needs of the community and surrounding community via nursing homes, adult homes ect. Maybe its time we considered building a new elementary or middle school.
Dec. 18, 2017, 2:31 pm

Comments closed.

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