Toxi City: Exploring Brooklyn's Industrial Legacy

More on the Ansbacher Color and Dye factory

Posted in Brooklyn,Williamsburg by Robin on March 11, 2011
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This spot which appears so barren is turning out to be so rich. it really encapsulates a whole era of American history.

March 7, 2011. Meeker and N. 7th Street.

Ansbacher came to New York from Bavaria to escape Antisemitism as did the family of Robert Moses, the other man to shape this spot. Ansbacher incorporates in 1875 and begins to make Paris Green at 310 N. 7th Street. There is an article in the Brooklyn Eagle about neighbors complaining about having Paris Green in their yards that very year. If you search the Brooklyn Eagle for Paris Green, there are 1,000 items most of them about suicides accomplished with this chemical compound. By 1902, the business is doing so well, Ansbacher expands his building. This new building is big enough that there are over 100 men working on it. These Irish brick carriers decide to strike for a raise from $2.75 a day to $3. Italians are brought in the break the strike. Ansbacher was a philanthropist, giving money in particular to Mount Sinai Hospital. He dies in 1917 and about 10 years later his company merges with another dye firm, eventually to be absorbed into Sun Chemical in the 1950s. Then it was Robert Moses’ turn to mold N. 7th and Union. The path of the BQE including the former Ansbacher factory building, Paris Green and all, was razed in 1947 to Metropolitan Avenue. The BQE was built to this point by 1951. there was a gap between metropolitan and the Willamsburg bridge. You an see this on the NYC doitt map. Further progress took a few years. Now the spot is a corridor, a place to pass through.



Yesterday I took a walk through Greenpoint and Williamsburg. 101-05 West Street appears unchanged from my last visit in 2009.
But everywhere else there appears to be construction. Transmitter Park around the corner is underway. The Pencil Factory Condos are finished now. They are named for the Faber Pencil factory that was between Greenpoint and Kent and Franklin and West, across the street from 101-05 West Street. There is also construction on the Greenpoint Avenue side of this block. It seems a matter of time until something is built at 101-05 West Street.

Self-portrait on Oak Street.

Bushwick Inlet.

Former Williamsburg Works site. Kent between N. 12th and 11th.
In the summer of 2009, there was active testing being conducted on this site. The results of those tests have not been posted to the NYSDEC Environmental Site Remediation database record for this site. It had been cleared and was fenced off. It now appears that the site has reverted to use as a parking area.

It seems like there is a long way to go before this area becomes Bushwick Inlet Park.

On N. 13th, where the Wythe Avenue holder once stood, there was quite a bit of activity.

Construction debris on N. 12th Street looking towards the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Union Avenue. This statue commemorates the church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel that stood at Union Avenue and Jackson and was torn down in order to build the BQE.

Ansbacher Color and Dye Factory. 310 N. 7th Street.
I am making a piece about this site for an group show that will use augmented reality: D├ęcollage: Torn Exteriors. It is curated by my friend Sarah Drury and will open at Ventana 244 in April. First, I need to figure exactly where the factory was. 304 is still standing and was in 1898 the Ridgewood Color Works according to the Ulilitz map in the NYPL digital collection. It is now owned by the Candle Development corp. It does not look open and there is an EPA action against the owners dating to 2007. Next to this would have been 310 N. 7th. Now Meeker Avenue runs there parallel with the BQE.

The Ansbacher Color and Dye works made pigments for use in paints and inks. One of those was Paris Green. The name of the pigment comes from its use in the sewers of Paris to kill rats. It was also a pigment used by artists. Cezanne used it frequently. (See a report by The American Institute for Conservation.) It is possible that his diabetes was brought on by arsenic poisoning. Paris green was also used as an insecticide and as such marked the beginning of the use of chemical insecticides. Take a look at this ad for Ansbacher’s Paris Green. Empire Boulevard also used Ansbacher’s Paris Green in episode 11 for a poisoning. The NYSDEC record for the site states there are elevated arsenic levels in the surrounding yards. Given the proximity of the BQE, I am sure that is not all there is in the soil of those yards.


Bushwick Inlet

Posted in Brooklyn,Brownfield,Greenpoint,Williamsburg by Robin on September 9, 2010

Last week, I went to Williamsburg to talk to Brian Walsh about mgps and state superfund sites for a documentary that he is making. Last year, testing was ongoing at the Williamsburg Works site. Now, there doesn’t appear to be anything happening at the site. A few cars were parked there. Interestingly enough, Bayside Oil whose property was on the Voluntary Cleanup Program list last summer is no longer on the list. This whole area along the waterfront is slated to become a park despite its very intense contamination.

Two blocks away is the Wythe Avenue Station site, now a state superfund site. Coal gas was stored on this site. Now it has several warehouses and a palet company on the block. People go to work on this site everyday. I don’t know what the exposure issues are or how dangerous it is to be on this site day in and day out but I know that I would want to know if my workplace was a state superfund site.


Posted in Brownfield,Greenpoint,Williamsburg by Robin on July 17, 2009
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I started this morning under the BQE. Between Metropolitan and Union Avenues along Meeker is a State Superfund site. The NYSDEC website states that debris from the Ansbacher Color & Dye Factory, which was at North 7th and Union, was used as fill under the roadway. I haven’t been able yet to find the footprint of this factory though I looked last week at the old maps at the Brooklyn Historical Society but I did learn that Paris Green, copper(II)-acetoarsenite, was made there on the Brooklyn page of
Looking out from under the BQE towards where I guess the factory would have been.

Under the BQE between Metropolitan and Union.

The next site, 291, 285 Metropolitan is under review for the Brownfield Cleanup Program. It appears to be an ordinary auto repair. This brings up the very important issue of what sites become designated brownfield sites. There are manufactured gas plants in Brooklyn that are not on the list. So why this auto repair?

Next, I walked over to the Williamsburg Works site. The remedial investigation is visible. On the north portion of the block, something was set up to take a deep underground sample. Men were working a hose down into the machine when I was there. There were new small piles of dirt in spots around the lot since I visited the site last month.

There is also a great view of Bayside Oil from 13th Street.

There was a gas holder on 13th street as well. There is now a pallet company there now.


Then I went up to West Street to try to find a site that theoretically has been remediated. I could not find the site right away. 101-105 West Street is supposed to be between Kent and Java on the West side of the street. According to the NYSDEC database, it is a construction material storage yard but from what I observed today there are two buildings on this block. It actually must be between Kent and Greenpoint Avenue. it is now boarded off with plywood.

June 17th-Williamsburg

Posted in Brownfield,Williamsburg by Robin on June 17, 2009
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I started this am at the former Nassau Works site which is now a sanitation department facility. I had taken a shot of this sand pile the last time I was there that I liked but the focus was off. This time the light wasn’t on the sand. I also hadn’t noticed the Municipal Building in the background before.

A lot of the facility is used for parking.

Next I went to the Fyn Paint and Lacquer Co site at 230 Kent. I think this is the building. the site has high levels of both VOCs and NAPL. The ground water is contaminated and flows towards the East River.

Then I went to the site of the former Williamsburg Works. The last time I walked by this site over a year ago, it was being used as a parking lot for Sanitation Department vehicles. Today it was empty. Two women were inside the fence working at the back of a car. When I talked to them they gave me a fact sheet from the NYSDEC about the ongoing Remedial Investigation. This site was a MGP from 1850 until the 1930s. There is a large amount of tar in the soil.


Immediately adjacent is Bayside Oil, another site targeted for remediation.


March 22nd

Posted in Brooklyn Navy Yard,Brownfield,Williamsburg by Robin on April 19, 2009

Nina Young joined me for a tour of some of Williamsburg’s toxic sites. We started at the waterfront.


Brooklyn Navy Yard 13 Acre Parcel

Then went on to the site of the Nassau Works Manufactured Gas Plant now occupied by the Department of Sanitation. The major structure on the site now is a salt storage facility.


Rutledge Station
We stopped at a housing development that was built on the site of a former holding tank. There was a group of children playing outside. This little girl was very curious about us.

Skillman Station
At another former holding station, we found a wedding banquet hall. From the street, the building looked like an ordinary brick warehouse. Inside, the rooms are the elegant stuff of bridal fantasy.
Skillman Street Station
This site, at 630 Flushing Avenue, was remediated by Pfizer. it is now a parking lot.