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After a turbulent meeting with city School Construction Authority officials in April, the Juniper Park and Citizens of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together civic associations are preparing to file a lawsuit against the city over a planned high school in Maspeth.
Working with attorney and City Council candidate Tom Ognibene, the two civics allege the city went forward with the plan for the 1,100−seat school, which was approved by the Council in March, despite high levels of chemical contamination in the soil.
“It’s really [seeking] an injunction requiring the city to do a more intense and encompassing environmental impact study,” Ognibene said of the lawsuit, which he expected to file this week. “We believe that theirs was a cursory evaluation in order to avoid having to do the kind of remediation that’s necessary. According to our expert ... there are up to 3,000 times the acceptable level of carcinogens in that soil.”
The city Department of Education has said the site is no more polluted than any other school site and noted that no soil replacement was necessary at the site. Plans for the school include a plastic barrier between the ground and the school foundation and a ventilation system to ensure no toxic fumes accumulate.
Rosemarie Daraio, president of COMET, said the groups filed the suit because they believe the city misled them about the contamination levels of the soil.
“The fact that they want to vent the toxins out of a chimney is outrageous given the fact that we have a high incidence of asthma here,” she said, noting the proximity of the Long Island Expressway means airborne particulate levels are already high. “We’re surrounded. Why are you going to vent more toxins here?”
Engineers at a Juniper Civic meeting in April said the ventilation system was a precaution and the soil does not contain toxins that produce fumes.
The movement got a major boost from Dr. James Cervino, a pathologist who works for Pace University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who helped residents fight the a planned high school building near Queens Hospital Center in 2007.
Cervino accused the city of not considering more stringent state Department of Environmental Conservation pollution standards in its decision and urged the DOE to conduct soil remediation.
A DOE spokesman has said replacing the soil at the Maspeth site is out of the question.
In the meantime, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D−Howard Beach) said he was still working on legislation that would create different environmental pollution standards for children than for adults.
“Children have a weaker immune system than adults,” he said. “I’m going to see if I can adjust that standard, because that standard may be for an adult.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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