Gowanus residents smoke over toxic air at the shuffleboard club

State environmental officials waited nearly two years to alert the public that cancer-causing fumes, more than 20 times the safe amount, were escaping the polluted soil along the Gowanus Canal — and making their way into a nearby shuffleboard club.

The Department of Environmental Conservation learned of the alarming levels of toxic fumes in March 2021 while conducting air quality tests at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club — but the hipster haven stayed open throughout as the agency deemed the century-old building “safe.”

The agency only documented the amazing find late last year in public records buried on its website.

On Friday, DEC spokeswoman Haley Viccaro admitted to The Post that making locals aware of the looming health threat could have been done better and is “evaluating potential improvements to improve this process and ensure that this information.” clear and informative for this comprehensive science-based effort to protect public health.”

Jonathan Schnaps.
Co-owner Jonathan Schnapp said the club stayed open because DEC assured him it was safe.

The news hit the hearts of Gowanus residents, who are now battling cancer.

“I can pretty much draw a line between where I live and why I have cancer,” said Margaret Maugenest, 71, a longtime resident who lives a block from the club. In 2019 she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“There is no history of cancer in my family; I’m a good eater; I have a healthy lifestyle but I get colon cancer and I read about all these carcinogenic materials in the soil that surrounds us,” she added.

The Gowanus Canal.
The Gowanus Canal is one of the most polluted waterways in the country.
Helayne Seidman

The revelations only came to light thanks to grassroots group Voice of Gowanus, which hired an Ithaca, NY-based environmental database firm, Toxics Targeting, which recently uncovered the damning DEC documents.

Records showed that air levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichlorethylene, an industrial solvent, in March 2021 were nearly 22 times above acceptable levels at the shuffleboard club.

“The DEC in 2021 should have put up signs at the club, put public service announcements in local newspapers, and sent out email alerts to people in the neighborhood,” said Walter Hang, who leads Toxics Targeting. “All they did was make obscure clues in dense technical documents that ordinary citizens are ignorant of or unable to decipher.”

Margaret Muegenest.
Margaret Maugenest, 71, a longtime Gowanus resident who lives a block from the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.
Courtesy of Walter Hang

A government-approved project to reduce emissions by venting underground pollutants is currently underway. Multiple follow-up tests over the past two years — including one in November — have since shown that the hipster hotspot’s air quality is at “safe” levels, despite minor traces of trichlorethylene.

However, some long-time club guests and staff worry their health may already be at risk because it’s unclear how long Royal Palms’ indoor air has been toxic.

“I blame the state government 100% but at this point I haven’t gone back there for my own safety – and it’s sad because I spent a lot of nights there,” said a Park Slope resident who lived in the Royal Palms shuffleboard leagues played since 2019.

The sign for the Royal Palms.
The centuries-old building is a hipster’s paradise.
Helayne Seidman

Environmental laws in this country are so weak and difficult to enforce and the fact that this has gone unnoticed for so long is an example of how weak they are,” the person added.

Royal Palms opened in 2014 at 514 Union Street in a building previously used as a stamping factory. It’s one of many former manufacturing sites in the neighborhood whose subterranean soil is saturated with toxic coal tar, a by-product of former coal-gas-making companies.

Over the past century, much of the coal tar – dubbed “black mayonnaise” by longtime residents – also seeped into the Gowanus Canal, which is one of the most polluted waterways in the country and is undergoing a massive federal cleanup.

Interior of the Royal Palms.
Royal Palms opened in 2014.

The DEC learned that Royal Palms was experiencing air quality issues after the building’s owner, Avery Hall Investments, applied for financial assistance under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program in early 2021 to advance a larger mixed-use development with apartments on adjacent lots that it owns .

However, residents say they only became aware when the site’s cleanup plan was updated in December and DEC sent out fact sheets in an email blast that many of them didn’t receive.

Royal Palms co-owner Jonathan Schnapp said the club stayed open because DEC assured him it was safe.

A high rise construction site at Union and 3rd Ave, across from the Royal Palms.
The toxicity was reportedly discovered during testing in 2021.
Helayne Seidman

“We are not scientists and we are not experts, but we trusted the DEC; We continue to trust the DEC and would never do anything to put our staff or our community at risk,” Schnapp said, adding that the club recently signed a lease extension to remain in business until at least 2033.

Viccaro said the DEC had “no information about possible contamination” until the site’s owner was included in the state remediation program because there are “currently no requirements” to test indoor air. She called the mitigation system at Royal Palms “effective.”

But Hang and many Gowanus residents said the cleanup project doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t completely clean up the toxic soil lurking beneath and around the building – just part of it.

Hazardous waste drums on property adjacent to Royal Palms.
Hazardous waste drums on property adjacent to Royal Palms.
Helayne Seidman

“The state needs to proactively start cleaning up sites like this right away,” said Seth Hillinger, a 46-year-old software developer who lives nearby and occasionally visits Royal Palms.

“This should not only be a warning flag for this business, but for the many others that have been built in toxic sites along the canal.”

https://nypost.com/2023/03/18/gowanus-residents-fuming-over-toxic-air-at-shuffleboard-club/ Gowanus residents smoke over toxic air at the shuffleboard club


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