New Study Reveals Catastrophic Environmental Consequences to Manhattan Valley Residents and School Children if City Proceeds with Proposed 108th Street Development
April 16, 2016 --- Among the programs on the Mayor’s land-use agenda is a project on West 108th Street in Manhattan Valley, a section of the Upper West Side, which would result in the demolition of three long-standing parking garages. But more important than the loss of parking spaces, which play a particularly significant role in this working-class neighborhood, are the potential environmental hazards to the neighborhood.
Although cynical voices have tried to cast this dispute as “people vs. parking,” the residents of Manhattan Valley who actually live in the neighborhood know better. This dispute is about their quality of life, safety, and the well-being of their children and community. They are pursuing the principles of fundamental fairness and compliance with New York law that informs the policies of the Mayor’s Office.
Residents organized Save Manhattan Valley (SMV), a neighborhood coalition currently representing 2,000 people. The coalition includes: The West Side Federation of Neighborhood and Block Associations, The North West Central Park Multi Block Association, Dominican Sunday Group, The Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association and the West 102nd & West 103rd Streets Block Association. The group is continuing to expand its coalition, and is projecting several thousand more supporters by summer.
SMV commissioned a study by GHD Services, Inc., an environmental analytics and consulting firm. Without any connection to City developers, GHD was free to perform its own research, provide an independent analysis, and arrive at its own conclusions, whether favorable or unfavorable to SMV. Hiller PC, which represents SMV, circulated the report to government officials. As a result, District 7 Council Member Mark Levine has advised the Mayor to meet with SMV. Still, to date the de Blasio Administration has not yet met with SMV or offered an appropriate forum to express their views and to consider alternative sites.
GHD’s Study confirms that environmental and adverse impacts threatened by the Project would likely have fatal consequences to the residents and school children of Manhattan Valley. Among the findings:
Gasoline Contamination - from storage tanks (USTs) buried beneath the garages. Construction and drilling are among the top ten causes of UST leaks. Should the garages be demolished, a release of gasoline from at least one (if not more) of the UST's would result. Vapors generated from gasoline can seep into residential buildings and result in eye and respiratory irritation, headaches and/or nausea. The vapors carry carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, MTBE, PCBs, lead and other cancer-causing agents. Lead found in leaking USTs is a recognized cause of cancer and adverse effects on developing children. The gasoline used at the sixty-year-old garages most likely contained organic lead, which is extremely toxic. Exposure, even at low concentrations, has been shown to cause health issues.
Hazardous Materials - the garages were historically used as automotive servicing facilities, associated with chlorinated and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Numerous chemicals were stored, used and disposed of including fuels, hydraulic oils, brake fluid, coolant and waste oil. These substances include heavy metals, VOCs, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and PCBs, all highly toxic. PCB's have been shown to cause cancer, as well as dangers to the immune system, reproductive, nervous and endocrine system.
Prior to use as an auto repair facility, evidence shows that the space was likely utilized to process iron ore, which also involved the use of heavy metals and fuels. It is likely that, over the time that the buildings have existed, discharges have impacted fill material beneath them. If the Project proceeds it will almost certainly lead to release of these dangerous materials. Copper exposure can cause, among other things, irritation of the mucous membranes, dizziness, nausea, as well as cumulative lung damage. Nickel exposure can cause chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and cancer of the lung and nasal sinus.
Lead and Lead-Based Paint - WSFSSH’s own Phase I ESA confirms that due to the age of the garages, lead-based paint may be present. Lead exposure can have serious health effects, and children under the age of six and pregnant women are most susceptible. Given the proximity of the buildings to the Aviles Playground, MS54 and the School Playground, the risk of exposure is particularly acute and dangerous.
Asbestos - A carcinogen, was specifically reported to be present in one furnace room, and based on the age of the buildings, is suspected to be present throughout all three. Exposure is known to cause severe and fatal effects, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Traffic - The Project is directly contrary to NYC's Pedestrian Safety Action Plan Vision Zero, designed to minimize pedestrian injuries and deaths. The garages hold as many as 785 vehicles daily. A City commissioned study concluded that "additional available parking capacity in the area is insufficient to accommodate the displacement of monthly parking spaces as a result of the demolition of the West 108th Street Garages." An increase in distracted drivers looking for street parking, will lead to accidents with pedestrians (including children). MS 54 and playgrounds are across the street.
Excess gas emissions - Would be released from idling and circling cars. Prolonged exposure to carbon dioxide emissions has been shown to cause increased lung dead space volume, increased blood pressure, erratic and abnormal behavior, and premature death.
Shadow - The enjoyable use of Aviles Playground, MS 54 playground and sports fields would be curtailed during periods of the day when the proposed 11-story building casts a shadow. Playgrounds are considered Sunlight-Sensitive Resources of Concern defined by the City as “resources that depend on sunlight or for which direct sunlight is necessary to maintain the resource’s usability or architectural integrity.”
Not only would the Project cause adverse environmental impacts, but worse, it would violate the law. Under the City Charter, whenever the City locates a new facility it must conduct a Fair Share Hearing and consider Fair Share Criteria. These are designed “to foster neighborhood stability and revitalization.” Manhattan Valley already provides more than 40% of the affordable housing on the entire Upper West Side. When compared with other communities throughout the Five Boroughs, it becomes clear that Manhattan Valley already bears far more than its “fair share” of community supportive facilities.
This assortment of environmental, economic and social ills and hazards threatened by this Project, which many Manhattan Valley residents understandably have rejected, warrant its full re-evaluation by the City.