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MacNeil coast toxins on par with brownfields: Experts

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Two biologists, funded by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), collected samples of the waterfront property alongside MacNeil Park that is slated for an 86-home residential development and had them tested to find out what lies beneath the topsoil of the former landfill. They plan to present their findings to the public at a meeting Thursday, Feb. 10, at the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point. A brownfield refers to a piece of property that may have the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. The biologists' report, released by Padavan's office Tuesday, indicates that levels of petroleum in the soil rate with the amounts expected for a brownfield. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is required to evaluate and remediate a brownfield, once a property is given such a designation. A state DEC spokeswoman, Maureen Wren, said the property already has been deemed a brownfield and will be excavated by private money, or the developer's, instead of state money. The report, written by Pace University Professor James Cervino who lives across the street from the plot of land, said that the former landfill is contaminated with building material, concrete, steel, shipyard machinery, industrial trash and gravestones. These findings came a week after Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) demanded that government agencies test the waterfront parcel alongside MacNeil Park. As of Monday, a federal Environmental Protection Agency spokesman responded to their call to action by saying the agency had not yet become involved in the testing of the College Point waterfront parcel. "We don't just go out when any resident or anyone calls to ask 'can you sample?'" Jim Haklar, an EPA spokesman, said. Haklar said as far as he knew, the EPA had not yet gotten involved in testing the soil there. Avella, Crowley and Mayersohn called for a coordinated effort between the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the EPA and the city Department of Environmental Protection in testing the former landfill site that is poised to become a residential development. The state DEC has already approved environmental excavation plans for the property that include the removal of potentially harmful soil and the installation of a plastic sheet to protect future residents. A study by ETG Inc., an environmental consultant hired by the developer, College Point Properties, recommends that a vapor barrier be built below ground to prevent gases, liquids and solids from entering home foundations. On undeveloped land, the study calls for the builder to lay a plastic sheet over the ground and cover it with two feet of fresh topsoil to trap any potentially harmful substances from rising to the surface. Their study indicated that there were PCBs on the currently overgrown lot. The state approved the plan, much to the chagrin of area preservationists, after the public comment period ended in May. Representatives from ETG Inc. and College Point Properties did not return calls for comment. The public's awareness about the potential toxicity of the site was heightened in January when a homemade sign appeared on the lot warning residents of the presence of PCBs. No agency, activist or official took responsibility for the spray-painted banner, which has since come down. In November, two scientists, funded by the Northeast Queens Historic Preservation Commission, began collecting samples of the property for biologic examination. The commission was created through state Sen. Frank Padavan's (R-Bellerose) office to protect the development of the waterfront from College Point to Udall's Cove. Those findings, which were scheduled to be released at the institute located at 114-04 14th Rd. Thursday, show that there are toxic conditions in the soil, Padavan said. Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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