Yesterday, the City Coucil held a hearing to discuss the sale of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. And while tenants of the complex were there, Met-Life, who hopes to sell the parcel of land and buildings for $5 billion, was not. Metro reported that Met-Life's chairman sent a statement:
We are deeply concerned that some members of the City Council and other public officials view our decision to review our strategic options with regard to our Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town properties as somehow adversely im-pacting the city of New York. We strongly disagree. A change in the ownership of these properties (if that is the outcome) will not change the rights of the occupants of the properties.
True - but what about the future occupants? Many belive that any developer who buys STPCV will turned it into a luxury enclave.
And last night, we got an intriguing email from a tenant in Stuy Town-Peter Cooper Village, who is concerned about a less-reported issue: The fact that the whole development is built where gas manufacturing plants used to be. We have reprinted it below:
I have seen that Gothamist has written a few things about Met Life's proposed sale of Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village. I am a market-rate tenant in Stuy Town-Peter Cooper, and I believe one under-reported aspect of this concerns the fact that most of the site is built on toxic contaminants that are the subject of a cleanup agreement between Con Ed and NY State, pursuant to which the State is, for now, holding off on characterizing the site a "superfund" site. I thought I'd pass along what I know. It might take 30 minutes or so to read through this, but I personally think it's worth it.
At bottom, I don't think people that live here have been paying sufficient attention to this, and I am concerned that Met Life and Con Ed have significant interests in keeping this quiet. I think if it received some media attention there would be better public debate about what should be done to clean up the mess that exists just a few feet below the surface of these properties, to ensure that whatever is done is done safely and with the best interests of the community in mind. Here is a summary. [FYI, this apparently is disclosed in the bid book created in connection with the sale (hard to imagine how it couldn't be); the only recent mention I've seen of it is in the last paragraph of Janny Scott's NYT article the other day, but she didn't say anything other than to note it's disclosed in the bid materials.]
This entire issue stems from the fact that Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village were built on what used to be manufactured gas plants. A fair amount has been written about former manufactured gas plants (FMGPs) generally, such as the following BusinessWeek article:
The NY State Dep't of Environmental Conservation has a website on the topic of FMGPs; this provides very helpful background, I think.
With respect to Con Ed, they have various information sheets that are publicly available on their website (I think these are required pursuant to the voluntary cleanup agreements). These describe, in general terms, what FMGPs are, and what Con Ed is required to do about them pursuant to the agreements.
* Con Ed's fact sheet on FMGPs generally can be found here
* There is Con Ed's FAQ page (PDF)
* Also, I believe Con Ed is required to have a "Community Involvement Plan," and it can be found at the following link
With reference to the Community Involvement Plan (third bullet above), at the Peter Cooper site where I live, we are now at "Stage 4," i.e., the testing to date has led to the conclusion that contamination is present, and remedial action is required. Over the past 6-8 months there has been "remedial investigation," i.e., investigation of how they will go about remediating.
I was able to find tonight on the web one of the Con Ed fact sheets from 2003, akin to what first caught my attention back then (sheets like this were posted - briefly - in the buildings in Stuy Town and PCV).Did you know about the environmental issues at Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village?
I also have copies of the voluntary cleanup agreement itself (between Con Ed and NY, I believe from 2001; I called the State and had them send me a copy), as well as a CD with the reports generated during the "Site Characterization Study" phase of the project (i.e., the report that concluded that waste is present, and that remedial action is required; I called Con Ed and got them to send me a copy).
Obviously a critical question in all this is whether there is any real risk to human health. If you read the Con Ed fact sheets closely, they are not site-specific (i.e., they seem to apply across all FMGPs), and they take no real position on whether there is an active risk to human health. Compare the answers to the second and third of the FAQs I have excerpted below, which are taken from the generic Q and A on Con Ed's website (I believe these Qs and As were posted at some point during the testing process). The first one says exposures are not "anticipate[d] to be signficant" while the second says "no studies have yet provided information about the effects of long-term exposure to the low doses likely to be encountered at a former plant location." (The following are excerpted from this FAQ.)
What are the hazardous materials likely to be found in a former MGP site and the health impact of each material?
There are literally dozens of materials potentially associated with former MGP sites. These materials could include coal, slag, ash, cinders, coal-tar, oils, and, gas purification wastes; and contain benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, creosote, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), cresols, among others. But the NYSDEC and other experts have indicated that the substances most frequently found are coal tar and gas purification wastes and their associated byproducts: coke, naphthalene, benzene, and PAHs. These materials may also be present at holder station sites.
Is anyone currently working and/or living at a former MGP or holder site exposed to any danger? How do you know for sure?
A primary goal of these investigations is to evaluate actual and potential risks to the public through exposure to contaminants from these facilities. Exposure to contaminants can potentially occur through direct contact with the waste or through gas contaminants getting into indoor air. Exposure to contaminated groundwater through ingestion is not expected because the areas around these sites are served by municipal water systems. Because these sites have been closed for many years, and, in most cases redeveloped, we do not anticipate exposures to be significant. Much of the waste or contaminated soil will not be at the surface where direct contact exposure may occur. Con Edison and agency staff have prepared a soil gas/indoor air survey work plan that will be used at sites where testing is warranted or requested by the property owner.- NYSDOH
Have any studies been done of people exposed to MGP sites, in NY or elsewhere?
While a number of studies have analyzed the composition of substances often associated with MGP sites, unfortunately no studies have yet provided information about the effects of long-term exposure to the low doses likely to be encountered at a former plant location. The Electric Power Research Institute has commissioned a number of independent studies on behalf of the industry, but the findings were inconclusive: The studies indicated that coal tars in the environment are capable of causing cancers in laboratory animals. Exposure to coal tar in the studies was primarily through eating contaminated substances; however, breathing coal tar or absorbing it through one's skin, though unlikely at most sites, is also considered a method of exposure.
Will locations identified as former MGP or gasholder sites have to be evacuated?
Given the unique and historic nature of MGPs and gasholder stations, each site will have to be evaluated and handled on a case-by-case basis, with public health and safety being our first priority. However, in most cases where contaminants are detected and remediation is necessary, it can often be conducted safely while occupants remain on site.
(For what it's worth, I find it interesting that the industry-commissioned study led to "inconclusive findings.")
Finally, this website seems to collect a bunch of information on FMGPs and related issues generally - Hatheway.net.
From where I sit, it seems there is no doubt that there is real contamination here; from what I gather the real question will be what, if anything, to do about it. A lot of the information above (and on the Con Ed and NY State websites I am pointing you to) seems to suggest that "if the stuff is underground, then perhaps its just best left there." This is particuarly so, I gather, because our drinking water comes from aquifers from upstate, not from the (contaminated) ground. Seems to make sense, I guess, but I am not an expert.
But one of my biggest concerns recently has been the amount of construction going on at Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village; if you came by tomorrow and went through the 1st Avenue Loop or 20th Street Loop, you would see major construction, involving a number of very big and deep holes in the ground; and there are piles of dirt surrounding those holes and lining the street. I think this is part of an effort to replace underground plumbing -- the pipes and tanks that deliver our drinking water. What I don't know is what is being done to ensure this is all being done safely? Are there concerns about digging into piles of waste? Will it release vapors that are harmful? Are kids playing on the excavated dirt? Is that safe?
These are persistent questions to me, because since I first moved here in 1999 there has been a tremendous amount of construction, as Met Life has been improving the place (perhaps to spruce it up for sale?), and I feel like I have too little information on whether there are risks associated with living in the midst of that. (The Tenants Association and local politicians have been all lathered up about pets, "key cards" and now the sale, rather than this issue . . .)
Tenants are trying to band together and submit a bid together - check out the STPCV Tenants' Association site. And something from last week: The Sun had an editorial saying Senator Schumer's suggestion that state money help the tenants' bid for STPCV was terrible.