Laura Boehm has not worked in Ozone Park very long, but she says the community is close to her heart.
About five years ago, she opened her company, LMB Consultants, on the second floor, right on the corner of 100th Street and 101st Avenue.
Directly across the street from her office is the old Ozone Park Long Island Rail Road station, abandoned since 1962. The station will be the site of an ambitious chemical cleanup project to be undertaken by End Zone Industries, the group formerly known as Ozone Industries, which once stored aircraft parts in the bays under the old station platform.
The years of being used to store aircraft parts have left the bays contaminated with a chemical called trichloroethylene, or TCE, a substance linked to some forms of cancer and problems of the central nervous system.
The chemical is located in the soil below seven bays under the former train station between 101st and 103rd avenues along 100th Street and is believed to have come from the aircraft parts that were once stored there.
Beginning next month, a contractor hired by End Zone will begin removing contaminated dirt from the site, trucking it to a remote location. Venting systems will also be installed to release some of the TCE into the air.
The remediation plan comes after a decade of coordination between End Zone, the city and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Testing for TCE dates back to 2004, not long after the chemical was found at PS 65, a public elementary school at 103-22 99 St., a block from the End Zone site. Some teachers and children at the school were sickened in 2002, possibly as a result of the chemical, though that has never been confirmed.
That possibility is part of what led Boehm to do significant research into the history of the TCE cleanup plan, dating back almost a decade. What she discovered has left her with a number of concerns.
First, a report issued by the DEC in February 2010 stated that it had explored another, more expensive, option to remediate the chemical. The alternative option, which costs $23 million according to the report — ten times the cost of the planned project — would have required the demolition of the entire train trestle and the possibility that some property owners near the site would have to relocate for up to two years. It also described the contamination site as being 43,000 square feet, nearly four times the size of the End Zone site. That alternative plan was nixed.
“If they had an option like that, what is the true extent of the problem?” Boehm asked.
The DEC had not responded to requests for comment by press time.
Second, she was interested in why TCE levels taken more recently were lower than the original levels taken in 2004. One explanation for that is that the plume of TCE below the ground has spread and diluted. If that’s the case, Boehm wants to know why End Zone and the DEC are not seeking cleanup outside the seven bays on 100th Street.
Third, she says the neighbors did not get adequate notice or information about the project, noting she has spoken to a number of her neighbors on 101st Avenue — the building that houses her office also includes some apartments. She has found that nearby residents and business owners know as little about the project as she does. However, End Zone and the DEC both said they underwent a massive outreach program to reach residents and business owners near the site, including printing hundreds of fliers and distributing them.
For Boehm, those unanswered questions create too many concerns. Her office includes a back terrace, which she and her employees use in the summer. Only a few dozen yards away are the bays, where a contractor hired by End Zone is expected to start trucking out contaminated dirt next month.
She is also concerned about a plan to vent some TCE, a volatile organic compound, from the ground directly in the air.
At a Community Board 9 meeting on April 9, David Austin, a representative from AECOM, a consulting firm working with End Zone on the cleanup, said there will be vigorous monitoring of the air around the site during the project timeframe to make sure the levels of TCE are safe, and dirt that will be trucked away will be soaked with water and foam so it doesn’t blow away.
But Boehm is not convinced.
“They say the risks are small,” she said. “Yeah, that’s also what they said about Lower Manhattan about 9/11 and look how many people got sick and died from breathing in the air down there.”
Her concerns were echoed by Dr. Vincent Evangelista, president of the 101st Avenue Merchants’ Association, at the CB 9 meeting.
“Does the TCE contamination stop at the bays?” he asked Austin at the meeting.
Speaking for End Zone, Austin said the company is only concerned with what’s inside the bays and not anywhere else.
However, the concerns are not held by everyone doing business near the site.
Several of the bays to the south of the cleanup site are used for storage by a fence company, Olympic Fence. The business used to have its office at the site, but a few years ago moved its main headquarters several blocks away to Atlantic Avenue and 102nd Street.
A woman who answered the phone at Olympic Fence, identified only as Vicky, said the company is not concerned about chemicals at the site.
“If there was any problem there, they would have asked us to move our trucks and leave,” she said. “We’re far more concerned about what else the city has up its sleeve.”
She was referring to plans to build a Queensway park or reactivate the rail line on the viaduct above the location.
But for Boehm, the fight is too important to just give in. She hopes to find a way to pressure the city to pull the access permits End Zone acquired for the site last month and stop the work before it is scheduled to begin in mid-May.
“I just want them to tell us the full extent of what we’re facing,” she sad, noting the real risks are for the residents who live in the area.
“We can move, although we don’t want to,” Boehm said. “They can’t.”