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Pollution at planned hotel site worries neighbors

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Fresh Meadows residents said they were deeply concerned about a contaminated Horace Harding Expressway site where plans are in the works to develop two hotels and new homes after state investigators recently began testing for toxic substances in the air and water.

The site, at 183-15 Horace Harding Expwy. in Fresh Meadows near the Bayside border, once housed the Cineplex Odeon Cinema 5, stores and a dry cleaning business, from which dry cleaning solvent is believed to have leaked into nearby groundwater.

Current plans for the site include the development of two hotels and attached houses in an as-of-right project.

But residents along nearby 185th Street and Booth Memorial Avenue said inspectors from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation recently tested the front lawns and homes of neighboring residents for toxicity in the air or soil.

DEC spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas said high levels of tetrachloroethene, a dry cleaning fluid also known as PCE, were found in the groundwater at the site and in the neighboring vicinity. The inhalation of its vapors can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, unconsciousness and even death.

"We have no control over them building hotels — it's a commercial property," said John Bellone, who lives on Booth Memorial Avenue. "But we don't know what we're breathing here. My wife and daughter are on medication for thyroid conditions and a lot of people around here said they have been getting sore throats."

Garcia-Costas said plans to remove toxic chemicals from the site involve a 14-feet-deep excavation and the installation of a system to remove the contaminated soil. He said air quality will continue to be monitored to determine whether residents living near the site are breathing clean air.

He said the site is listed in the state's Brownfield Cleanup program, which cleans industrial and commercial sites where development is halted by environmental contamination.

Diane DiBlasi, who lives across the street from the property, said digging at the site has severely rattled her house, while 185th Street resident Anna Genzale said the excavation's rumbling knocked her two parrots off their perch and broke several glasses in her home.

"The pounding was unbelievable," DiBlasi said. "Houses were shaking."

Genzale, whose front lawn was tested for toxic soil, pleaded with Community Board 11 at its meeting last week to come to residents' aid in the matter. The board said it would attempt to set up a meeting with the property's owner.

"I've been told not to bother fighting a big corporation and that's a slap to my American face," she said. "Where are my rights in all this?"

The project's developer is Horace Harding Realty LLC.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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