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Staggering Levels of Chemicals Found Inside Brownsville NYCHA Development

Tests detected chemicals commonly found in petroleum and dry cleaning far above the levels deemed acceptable by the federal government.
Saratoga Village, Brownsville, BK Reader
Photo credit: NY Daily News

Saratoga Village in Brownsville has shown alarming levels of chemicals in indoor air, reports the Daily News. The chemicals detected inside the apartments include benzene, a compound found in petroleum, and tetrachloroethylene, a compound used in dry cleaning.

The source of the chemicals has yet to be confirmed. But: The NYCHA development is located next to land that has been contaminated by dry cleaning and petroleum spills.

The chemicals were detected by BlocPower, a startup that uses technology to retrofit buildings in financially underserved communities, and which was hired in May to measure health and safety conditions at NYCHA developments. The company analyzed energy efficiency and humidity levels inside buildings, tested for carbon dioxide and placed sensors to detect the presence of chemicals in the air.

"As part of a pilot program we launched to identify potential energy savings, we discovered a possible air-quality issue and are working to ensure this is managed appropriately," said NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake.

From July 16 through last Wednesday, BlocPower placed sensors inside five randomly chosen apartments throughout the Brownsville development and found levels of volatile organic compounds registering above 1,000 parts per billion (PPB), levels far exceeding the 200 PPB the federal government lists as the "maximum threshold" for these chemicals.

Earlier this year, test results were submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from a vacant city-owned lot neighboring the NYCHA complex, which housed a dry cleaning business until 1965. The results revealed elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene and petroleum in the soil and groundwater.

"Why is it that families within NYCHA constantly have to bear the health burdens of mismanagement and neglect?" asked Brooklyn Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel, chairwoman of the Public Housing Committee. "We have constantly witnessed a lack of response and urgency when it comes to these major concerns and, unfortunately, we are now seeing the consequences, and families are becoming sick. We need to act now to make all the needed repairs to make public housing safe and healthy for our children and families."

On Thursday, BlocPower presented NYCHA with the test results which are now under review by the DEC.