Feds Explore Queens Asbestos Dump

posted on:
November 4, 2006

author:
Staff

The grounds of the former home to U.N. employees in Briarwood were excavated over the last several days as the FBI was looking for evidence of illegal asbestos dumping.

Parkway Village, a co-op bordered by the Grand Central Parkway, Main Street, Union Turnpike and Parsons Boulevard, is being thoroughly surveyed and examined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the watchful eye of the FBI.

There are several sites on the property cordoned off where residents are warned of possible asbestos exposure and workers wearing protective gear are sifting through the dirt, bagging it and filling covered Dumpsters with potentially tainted soil.

We are assisting the federal investigation thats going on, said Ben Barry of the EPA. The investigation, according to EPA representatives, is excavating several underground areas of Parkway Village, searching for asbestos that had been improperly disposed of within the subdivision.

A letter addressed to shareholders from the offices of Goldstein and Greenlaw, general counsel to the board of directors, was distributed on Tuesday, Oct. 24. In the letter, shareholders of the co-op were officially made aware of the asbestos investigation. Subpoenas requiring the production of the co-ops documents regarding this asbestos were served, the letter said, and it is the co-ops intention to fully comply with its obligations and cooperate in this investigation.

Displaced dirt sits in mounds while the equipment used to move it grinds noisily just feet from tenants homes. There are large Dumpsters bearing ominous warning labels and negative pressure containment tents, designed to keep dust and debris out of the air.

Asbestos has been linked to several incarnations of cancer, including mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, and can cause asbestosis, a scarring of lung tissue caused by the bodys efforts to dispel particles of asbestos.

EPA fliers warn about the dangers of asbestos inhalation, and are available on site, both from officials and in the subdivision offices. However, another party has also visited bulletin boards, the front office and even posted on trees, leaving an Oct. 2001 Wall Street Journal op-ed, underlined and highlighted, asserting that in the past the EPA has exaggerated the dangers of exposure to asbestos.

To add to the confusion, attorneys representing the Board of Directors sent out an Oct. 26 letter to tenants, advising them not to let federal agents into buildings, because warrants issued did not authorize it. When asked for comment, Richard Finkel, lead counsel for the Parkway Board, said, that letter is out of date. We are now cooperating fully with the investigation, but admitted that no further letters had been sent to tenants.

Some residents whose homes were located away from the bustle of federal activity knew almost nothing about the investigation, while still more expressed confusion that it was ongoing, assuming the issue had been resolved.

The Board of Directors at Parkway Village did not return calls seeking comment regarding both the fliers and the situation on the grounds. The offices of Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) weighed in on the investigation Wednesday. The Congressman has the utmost concern for the health of the residents and workers of Parkway Village, and has been assured by the EPA that all possible health and safety precautions are being taken during this excavation process, said spokesman Glen Caplin. Illegally dumping toxic materials in the Congressmans district will not be tolerated, and he expects a vigorous prosecution if and when charges are filed.

Ultimately, both the FBI and the US Attorneys Office remain tight-lipped about who they suspect is responsible for the improper disposal of the hazardous material. The property was converted to co-ops in 1982 by a team led by former Councilman-at-large Michael J. Lazar. According to a New York Times archive, Lazars group spent $3 million at the time on building entrances, exterior lighting, gutters, landscaping and more. In the boiler room, major heat-generating equipment has been replaced.

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