State, city disagree over Ozone Park ooze

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By Alex Davidson

An electrical worker in Ozone Park is disputing the city transit agency’s claim that a lethal chemical started leaking down from ties on elevated subway tracks along Liberty Avenue because of rain.

And the Environmental Protection Agency said the use of creosote-treated wooden ties on the subway tracks should have been phased out despite a New York City Transit spokesman’s assertion that the agency used the substance legally during recent construction.

A six-year transit worker for the city who wished to remain anonymous said Friday in a phone interview that the dripping of the toxic preservative creosote onto cars and sidewalks below the A-line was the result of high temperatures and pressure caused by subway cars passing over wooden ties.

“It (the dripping) has nothing to do at all with water,” the worker said. “The ones (ties) that are wet have been wet for years.”

Creosote is a tar-like substance that the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a toxic pesticide. It is used to greatly extend the life of wood products.

Mark Groce, a spokesman for New York City Transit, maintained Monday that the chemical dripping from the tracks was creosote and that leaking problems began after the city was inundated with record-breaking amounts of rain in June. He said wet weather had not allowed time for the creosote to dry after wooden ties were installed during construction.

Groce said track work along the elevated subway tracks on Liberty Avenue from 89th Street to Lefferts Boulevard lasted from Jan. 11 to April 27. He said that two to three months ago New York City Transit received wood ties soaked in creosote in a series of shipments.

Residents have complained about creosote leaking onto their parked cars below the subway el. Groce said the transit agency responded by wrapping the wooden ties in burlap, a solution that has not stopped the problem.

The transit worker said people could be adversely affected by the creosote when they try to clean their cars. He said people might not be aware of the chemical’s toxicity, which is described to transit workers in lengthy information sheets.

“Creosote is more than just a nuisance on your paint job,” the transit worker said. “There’s really nothing good about it at any level.”

The worker said the amount of creosote leaking from the wooden ties, which he said are meant to last 30 to 40 years after they are installed, is also independent of the weather.

Dr. Adrian Enache, a biochemist and toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Second Region that includes New York state, said creosote is no longer allowed to be used as a preservative because of its toxicity. He said it was unlikely that the wooden ties used by the city transit agency had been treated with creosote because of a publicized ban.

Enache said creosote on parked cars below Liberty Avenue was not an immediate threat to area residents because it is mixed with water and thus not concentrated.

When asked about Enache’s statements, Groce said unspecified people at the transit agency had assured him that using creosote on subway tracks was legal.

Ken Stoller, an EPA spokesman speaking with Enache during a conference call interview, said creosote leakage from rail tracks is a frequent occurrence.

The transit worker said there is a danger for workers handling the potentially hazardous material. He said they wear safety equipment while handling the chemical and are then told to dispose of all clothing that has come into contact with the creosote once they leave a construction site.

The worker said the only piece of clothing workers keep are their gloves, while they willingly throw out the rest of their protective gear.

“It (creosote) is at every level a hazardous material,” he said. “Within the railroad industry, there has to be an alternative.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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