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Queens West stench sickens PS 78 kids, teachers

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"Everyone was running to the nurse before and after lunch," said Nairobi Lazo Hayes, 11, a fourth-grader in the school at 4-74 48th Ave. in Long Island City. "I had to go to the nurse. I felt like I couldn't breath and had a headache."City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) organized a hasty news conference Monday in the school courtyard demanding the state Department of Environmental Conservation halt work at the 21-acre Pepsi site next door, where a contractor has been prepping the land for a sprawling $2.3 billion housing and business complex dubbed Queens West since last year. The land was home to at least two turn-of-the-century oil refineries that left behind rotting petroleum that state officials say is responsible for the odor problems."Today I was startled when my phone ran off the hook" with complaints, Gioia said. "At least one child vomited from the smells. This is shocking and unacceptable. At the very worst this cleanup has been a failure. At the very best it's been reckless."At the request of the Department of Environmental Conservation, TRC Companies Inc. halted work Tuesday. "We decided to stop digging in the specific area of the site that was odorous," said TRC Vice President Ed Malley. "There are other things on the site that we are continuing to do and will continue to do."The Manhattan-based contractor has hauled away 50,000 tons of polluted dirt since last year and is 90 percent finished with the first stage of the cleanup, Malley and a DEC official said. The nine-month job has been plagued with problems - TRC stopped digging and stepped up odor controls last summer after a similar oil stench blanketed the Hunters Point waterfront. And in another move to reduce the stench, the company agreed two weeks ago to slow down its work, slashing daily truck trips from more than 100 to 60. DEC spokeswoman Gabrielle Done said clean-up work will be halted until TRC introduces more odor controls. The company has been battling the smell with stench-buffering foam, deodorant spray and a team of air monitors. "They were very cooperative," Done said. "They are very close to completion, but we are going to work out a better plan."Suggestions for new odor controls have included encapsulating the work area and using barges, rather than trucks, to haul dirt away. At a meeting with clean-up officials last week, Gioia offered a three-point plan that called for posting daily work reports on the DEC's Web site, establishing a 24-hour hotline to report odors and called for the contractor to make monthly written updates. "It's time that we reclaim our waterfront," Gioia said at the meeting. "but we have to do it in a way that protects our health."Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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