by Worldchanging NYC local blogger, David Leon:
I was recently working the legal end of a contaminated site remediation, and the environmental consultant mentioned that if you were to dig up any given patch of dirt in New York City, you would probably find at least some low level of contamination, This would be especially true on the waterfront and canals, which were once the primary places to dump waste and other fill material. This kind of low-level contamination does seem likely, given the city’s long industrial history prior to the advent of environmental regulation.
In PlaNYC, the Bloomberg administration estimates that there are 7,600 acres of contaminated sites in the city; if combined, this would cover an area half the size of Manhattan, and there is no comprehensive study or database documenting what types of contaminants are underground where. Current brownfield cleanup programs are administered mostly at the state and federal levels. These programs generally work best for large developers of highly contaminated parcels, because of the eligibility criteria for these programs. This is illustrated by the fact that only 1,900 of the estimated 7,600 acres of contaminated sites are currently in state brownfield cleanup programs.
Furthermore, if a small or medium-sized purchaser or developer of land suspects minor contamination, current laws and brownfield programs may actually provide some incentive not to even test for potential contaminants or do any proper cleanup. Landowners also have reason to develop uses like parking lots, which minimize their own potential liability and exposure, but may not fit community needs. In this aspect, the current state of brownfield remediation has negative impacts on the availability of waterfront access, open space and affordable housing, and often runs contrary to environmental justice principles.
PlaNYC proposes an 11-step city-wide detox program:
These are smart measures to reach the goal of cleaning up all the city’s brownfields. Much of the action, though, remains at the state level. So the plan proposes to urge the state to:
Hopefully, the state and the private sector will buy in to help the city achieve this worthy goal. It's not like we can't use the space!