From the Queens Chronicle:
A bucolic grassy area in College Point overlooking the East River seems like the perfect spot for a picnic. But looks can be deceiving; underneath the ground is a toxic mixture that was just listed on the state’s Superfund program as a Class 2 waste site because it poses a significant threat to public health and the environment.
Area activists have called for its cleanup for years and although they are happy the state finally listened, they said the problem encompasses a much larger area.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the site designation last week, describing it as a common grassy area within the Riverview Condominium complex on 121st Street. Elevated levels of PCB’s and petroleum compounds are present in the soil and groundwater.
DEC spokesman Michael Haggerty said the state will investigate the site — with no clear size designated by the state — within three months and determine the best ways to clean it up. He downplayed the danger by saying, “in reality, the risk is not at the ground level and people probably won’t encounter it.”
But experts like James Cervino differ. He is a lifelong College Point resident and marine biologist, who has spent years investigating the contamination caused by decades of illegal dumping that created the landfill where the condominiums were built in the 1980s.
“We are very aware of the contamination and illegal dumping that took place over the years that should have been remediated during the 1980s,” Cervino wrote to Haggerty. “Due to its mixed landfill and geological composition so close to the wetlands and coastal intertidal zones, there is a strong possibility that there are other areas or hot spots that still need to be addressed in this area.”
According to Cervino, illegal dumping began in 1954 and continued through 1975, which he estimates over the years created 30 to 40 acres of landfill in the College Point peninsula. There is everything in there from tombstones, material from the 1938 World’s Fair to oil drums and a sunken barge. “It’s really not safe to build on because it contains hazardous waste,” he said.
Besides PCBs and petroleum products, the location includes different volatile organic compounds. Part of the contamination comes from crushed drums filled with industrial sludge waste.
Joan Vogt, former president of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association, has monitored and fought area dumping there since the 1960s. “The city was horrible and let it happen,” Vogt said. “Money talks and the owners of the property didn’t care. They even buried a barge with oil in the area and it’s seeping.”
She agrees with Cervino that the Superfund designation is just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s everywhere,” Vogt said. “This is just the beginning.”