Sunnyside residents are up in arms over fumes from auto body shops and a local refinery on 39th Street, which is already a concern to the 108th Precinct because of problems posed by double-parked cars queuing up for vehicle maintenance services.
The businesses, all structurally connected on the same street, share a common wall with residential backyards on a parallel block.
A group of homeowners are crying foul. They said their quality of life is being infringed upon as fumes from car spray paint guns escape into the air when not painted inside regulated spray booths, which properly filter the emissions.
The residents are also concerned by visible black smoke emitting from the refinery, which creates jewelry, on the corner of the block.
“All I can say is from my end, my side of the fence, there have been days that I can’t even be out in my backyard,” said Allegra Bien-Ruiz, a Sunnyside property owner, who has been living in her house for six years with her family.
“I can’t even open my windows. [The fumes] come in sometimes and you’re like ‘woah,’’ Bien-Ruiz added.
Gabriel Sanchez, owner of Gabriel Auto Body at 43-05 39 St., confirmed that he used to paint cars on the premises. However, he no longer does, after receiving a fine from the Department of Environmental Protection in January for $2,000.
“Since that time, I don’t paint cars in my place. No more. The community inspectors come all the time, they check and now they won’t see nothing,” Sanchez said.
“I’m painting the cars in another place, because I have complaints in my shop,” he added.“When I paint the cars before, they smell the paint, the thinner. I’m painting cars in another place, in a special spray booth ...”
Bien-Ruiz is not the only homeowner who has been affected. This issue has been ongoing for years, according to a collective of residents who all reside on the same block parallel to where the auto body shops and refinery are located.
“I can’t breathe back there when they’re venting. I can’t be in my own backyard,” said Susan Buck, who has been an area homeowner for eight years and Sunnyside resident for 30 years. “I do smell a very toxic odor.”
The homeowners also worry about health issues the smoke may cause for small children.
“I have a little boy, he’s only 15 months old, and he plays in the backyard in the summertime — he’s going to be running around and that smell is just too strong,” Raquel Rodiguez said. “I’m just concerned, not just for myself, but my son.”
This is equally concerning because another resident noted the proximity of these businesses to area schools and children.
“Everybody knows, all the body shops are actually on the periphery of the city, or neighborhood like this one, that is heavily populated with kids and schools,” said Alex Novic, who has been unable to eat in his backyard with his wife for two years.
“I don’t know if the smell goes up to the school, but it affects everyone here. The noise doesn’t bother me, but the smell is unbearable sometimes,” Novic said.
“These are not cheap houses. We paid top of the market price for [our home]. We pay hefty taxes. I don’t deserve to sit in my backyard and breathe fumes,” Bien-Ruiz said.
She recently contacted the office of councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who forwarded her formal complaint to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
“It’s good for businesses to be good neighbors, just like neighbors should be good to each other,” Van Bramer said.
Bien-Ruiz adds that she’s not looking to shut the facilities down in anyway, but wants to know what chemicals these businesses are allowed to use within such close proximity to residential housing.
“I don’t mind sharing the block with auto body shops. I mind the quality of air I’m breathing,” Bien-Ruiz said.
“My mission in this battle is to stop any kind of chemical emissions from happening in the future,” she added. “As long as there is residential housing and a senior center next door, this should not be happening.”