BY JON CRONIN
Frustrated parents said they were not satisfied with answers given by the city’s Department of Health (DOH)and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) at an emergency community meeting regarding a large pile of lead-contaminated soil that sits across from PS/IS 128 in Middle Village.
The soil came from a 74th Street sewer project in Middle Village that was suspended in December due to the discovery of lead in the project’s soil. At the time, community leaders and elected officials were not made aware of the situation. Last week, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) held a press conference stating he was informed by the DDC that the soil across from the school in a designated staging area for the project’s equipment had dangerously high levels of lead.
At an April 23 emergency meeting at PS 128, Jeff Margolies—of the DDC—said that air-quality monitoring has been in place 24 hours a day at the site and the pile of soil has been covered due to community concerns. He added that the soil will be removed on April 28.
“The site will be closed; it will no longer be used by the DDC,” said Margolies.
Sam Miller, associate commissioner of the city Health Department’s Office of External Affairs, said that there were low levels of lead in the soil and there was no access to the soil by children. He said that the soil “doesn’t pose a hazard to the community.”
Holden noted that when he was initially informed about the levels by the DDC, he was told it was “very high.” He was told the soil was turned away from a dump due to the high levels. He added that he requested the results of the lead testing levels two weeks ago and had yet to receive them.
Patrick Larkin, a DDC official, said that he spoke with Holden and told him the soil was contaminated with lead, but claimed to never have mentioned whether the level was high or low.
Michael Capasso—the president of CAC Industries Inc., which oversees the project—was not on the panel at PS 128, but he attended the meeting to explain the situation to parents. He explained that the dump refused the soil based on visual inspection. He noted that the dump did not test it, but that he had the soil tested later, so that no dump could refuse it. He gave no explanation as to why the soil remained onsite for five months afterward. Capasso stated that the project was halted after lead levels were discovered, and that funding for protocols took time to be put in place.
Mark Papish, the constituent services manager for Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth), said the assemblyman was disappointed that the city did not inform his office of the contamination. He noted that CAC had various issues with its sewer project on Calamus Avenue in Maspeth.
“Why are they still getting contracts?” Papish asked.
Holden said that he would urge the City Council to investigate the DDC and CAC Industries.
“This is only the beginning,” he said.
Matilde Fratto, whose daughter attends PS 128, said at the meeting that she emailed requests on Saturday to the DDC asking about the lead levels in the soil.
“I specifically requested this information, so that we wouldn’t get the standard answer, ‘We’ll get back to you,’” she said, adding that the agency did not provide the information she requested and added that they would get back to her by April 24.
Fratto said that she was upset by the discrepancy between Holden’s announcement at last week’s press conference—where he stated there were high levels of lead in the soil—and the letter authored by Corinne Schiff, a deputy commissioner at the DOH, which stated that there were low levels of lead.
Margolies stated that the DDC would send a letter explaining the DDC’s findings in lay terms, but Fratto said she wanted the raw data so the community could then find an independent contractor to interpret it.
On Tuesday, Holden reported that he obtained the 88-page testing report from the mayor’s office. He was told, “You can’t condense this. That’s why it wasn’t given out.”
“It’s a detailed environmental report,” Holden said.
He added that a representative from the mayor’s office will attend the Juniper Park Civic Association’s meeting on April 26 to provide more information.