BY RICHARD SCHACK
While Governor George Pataki and the state legislature remain at a stalemate over how to clean up toxic waste sites in Queens and throughout the state, all their toxic cleanup funding has run out and the new budget could take another two months.
What It Means For Queens
According to State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) records, there are 17 identified toxic waste sites in Queens, and four others that have been have been listed as “potential sites.” Of the 21, one site has been funded for clean up while another is partially funded.
As for the rest, monies used to clean them once came from the State Superfund, a program that finds, investigates and funds sites that are dangerous to people and the environment. In 1986, more than $1.1 billion was put into the Superfund through an environmental bond act. That money ran out in late March.
With the Superfund in a $50 million deficit, the legislature is working on a budget, but no deal has been hammered out as of yet to replenish its cash flow.
A standoff between the Governor, the State Assembly and environmental groups could change the way toxic sites in Queens and the rest of the State are cleaned for the next 10 or 20 years.
Most of the 19 toxic waste sites in Queens that need clean up are in communities in western and southeast Queens (see chart).
Many of them, like the West Side Corporation site in Jamaica and a factory in Maspeth have been awaiting clean up for some time. And with the standoff between Gov. George Pataki and the state legislature, remediation of these sites may continue to languish, said Councilman Sheldon Leffler.
Assemblyman William Scarbor-ough said the issue is of great concern. Scarborough cited three hazardous waste sites in his Southeast Queens district which he said need to be cleaned as soon as possible.
“I have an MTA bus depot and several others, but the West Side Corporation site is the greatest concern,” said Scarborough, referring to the former West Side Corporation dry cleaning company site on 180th Street in Jamaica, part of Jamaica Industrial Park.
Depending on what happens in Albany over the next several months, sites like this could pose a danger to Queens residents even longer than anticipated.
Senator Malcolm Smith said, “We want to make sure (the Superfund is) replenished, and I’m real optimistic that’s happening. But right now it’s a matter of who will give in first – the Governor or the legislature.”
The Funding Debate
While the Assembly’s Environmental Committee, led by Chair Richard Brodsky, wants a plan which would provide funding for 10 years for thorough clean-up of sites, some environmental activists are saying that part of the stalemate is the result of Pataki’s plan to change the way the Superfund program works, and the fact that he will not back down.
According to Michael Liver-more, an environmental issues expert with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), instead of a 10-year plan Pataki wants a 21-year plan, one which the Assembly and environmental groups adamantly oppose.
They contend that with less money allocated for the fund each year will make it take much longer to clean the 800-plus sites in the State.
Livermore said that Pataki also wants the clean up of toxic waste sites to focus more on redeveloping the sites for business use.
The idea would rely on deed restrictions — documents which state that the sites can only be used for certain purposes, like factories.
However, State Comptroller Carl McCall released an audit of the sites earlier this year and found that four out of six deed restrictions from the past can’t even be found.
For example, without documentation the hazardous sites could be used for anything, like a nursery school, according to NYPIRG.
Jennifer Post is a spokesperson for the Governor’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and refuted the claims by the Assembly and NYPIRG.
As far as the 21-year plan, Post said the claims that clean-ups would take longer are “untrue” and that the Governor’s bill would provide annual funding.
She said the clean-up standards Pataki is proposing would be among the most stringent in the nation and will meet federal standards. The deed restrictions would be filed away and watched closely, she said.
Post added that the bill would make polluters pay more for clean up and would combine the Superfund with oil clean up programs, making waste clean up more focused.
When asked why the Assembly and environmental groups disapprove of the plan, Post said “It’s a political thing. This is a very complicated issue we have to address – what we want to do is update an effective, but aging program.” The bill has been floating around since 1999, she said.
Scarborough said that signs of replenishing the Superfund are not encouraging at this point. He said legislators in southeast Queens have put together a petition requesting that the Governor move ahead with Superfund funding plans, but added “nothing productive has been accomplished.”
The worst possible case scenario, said Livermore, would be if the budget is passed and money for the Superfund is not included. That could delay refunding for the Superfund for a whole year. It is expected that the state budget will be hammered out sometime in late July or early August.
Classifying Queens’ Toxic Sites
Queens used to have landfills, explained Councilman Sheldon Leffler, member of the City Council’s Environmental Committee. The Councilman said most of the Superfund sites in Queens are contaminated from dumping that was done years ago.
Queens’ known and suspected toxic waste sites listed in the State Superfund registry are listed under different categories according to the level of and what kind of contamination is at the site (see graph).
According to the DEC, Class 2 sites are the most dangerous, defined as a significant threat to people and/or the environment.
Hazard Substance Sites are products of industrial waste.
They are as dangerous as Class 2 sites, but because of a loophole in the law, they are funded differently than Class 2 sites.
This could likely change when the law is redone.
The merging of funding for the two is included in both proposals.
Manufactured Gas Plant Sites are sites where gas was manufactured years ago and is now hazardous.
These are typically the oldest of the sites, and until classified as level 2 are suspected to contain high levels of contamination.
Class 3 sites are those currently undergoing observation and monitoring by the DEC.
They are not considered as hazardous as Class 2, but are a danger nonetheless, an agency spokesperson said.
Identified Superfund Sites
The following is a New York State DEC list of sites that are a part of the Superfund program.
Astoria Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Bellerose Holder Station Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Cambria Heights Gate Station Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Con Ed, Flushing River Coking, NY Hazardous Substance Site
Fairfield Estates, Howard Beach Hazardous Substance Site
Far Rockaway Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Fort Tilden Potential Site
Grand Central PKWY, Bellerose Hazardous Substance Site
Idlewild Const. Waste Landfill Class 3 Site
Kennedy Gate Station Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Outlet City Potential Site
Peerless Instrument Co., Elmhurst Hazardous Substance Site
PS 60/62Q Annex Potential Site
Qanta Resources Class 2, Partially Funded Site
Queens West, Hunters Point – N Potential Site
Ravenswood Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Rockaway Park Manufactured Gas Plant Site
Van Wyck Gate Station Manufactured Gas Plant Site
West 45th Street Manufactured Gas Plant Site
West Side Corp. Class 2, Partially Funded Site