Toxi City: Exploring Brooklyn's Industrial Legacy

388 Bridge Street

Posted in Brownfield,Downtown Brooklyn by Robin on July 17, 2009
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On Wednesday, July 15th, I went by 388 Bridge Street in downtown Brooklyn. This site is in the Brownfield Cleanup Program and its application is under review. No information is available. It is basically a site ready for construction. This photo looks from Lawrence Street through to Bridge Street.

The site disrupts the pedestrian traffic with concrete barriers on the Bridge Street side.

Inside the site all is quiet for now. I assume as they resolve the toxicity issue. or maybe the developer is just broke. The signs around the site were not informative.

Bridge Street has a a small town feel. I could imagine the old Brooklyn as I stood there.

The historical use of this site might provide some insight. but still it was a bit puzzling as to why this site and not others that have historic uses that made them so polluted.



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.

Spring Creek

On Friday, I went out to view what I could of the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfill sites. All I an say is how I totally underestimated the scale of the sites. They are huge and quite high. The Pennsylvania Avenue site rises to 80 feet. The Fountain Avenue site higher.


The whole site is fenced. I was discouraged about getting a good view as I walked along. This is from the other side of Fresh Creek.There is one spot where one can get down to the water and get a clear shot with no fences.

I saw this guy down there.

I walked along the bike/pedestrian path that runs between the landfill and the belt parkway.

On the other side of Hendrix Creek is the Fountain Avenue Landfill which is even larger than the Pennsylvania Avenue one. And harder to get a clear view of least at this end. I was running out of time and tried to see what I could through the fence.

There are cement barriers along the fence here. Supposedly dirt bike riders kept breaking in.

This is shot from the Pennsylvania Avenue Side of Hendrix Creek.

Gowanus-July 5th

My friend Nina was back from Sweden and came with me to take pictures on this beautiful evening. We started on the Hamilton Avenue Bridge.

My real goal was the PathMark below that can be seen from the bridge. The Metropolitan Works manufactured gas plant site was here long before the grocery store. But being on the bridge was too distant to get a good shot other than maybe this one with the razor wire. At some point, I need to get right down in the parking lot.

I love this shot and I can’t say why. Maybe just an attraction to bright shiny objects.

Turning the corner, I realized that one can see the Williamsburg Savings Bank building between Bayside Oil and the 9th Street Bridge.

I love the way the light hits the BQE in the evening. Nina at work really accentuates the enormity of the roadway structure.

We walked up to the Citizens mgp site.

Looking through the fence, the light was lovely hitting the cement factory and the buildings on the other side of the Gowanus.

I loved how the light was hitting both the razor wire and the window detail on the Gowanus Village building. I shot this from a number of angles including from in the middle of the street and none of them capture how lovely this looked in person.

Lastly, we went into the whole foods site. I wanted to retake a shot with the snake graffiti on one side and the building impression on the Brooklyn Improvement headquarters in the background. What a disappointment that the plant had grown so much as to block the view!

Then I discovered the other side which I like too maybe even like better.

East Williamsburg/Bushwick

This morning I started on Maspeth Avenue. Despite its contamination, it too was part of the real estate boom. It has its share of empty condos.

The former Equity works site, now the site of a recycling facility, was already busy at 6:30 am. Trucks were lined up on Maspeth Avenue waiting to dump their loads inside. This site has not yet been tested but it has the potential to be truly toxic.

As I walked by Rewe Street, I shot this. It is one of the most inhospitable parts of the area.

The next site that I visited became toxic because it was a dry cleaning facility, Popular Hand Laundry, 88 Ingraham Street. While the area is industrial with a cement factory on the block to the west, the presence of the art community is also visible. The current building occupant is Astor Row, an art consulting business.

I had also planned to go to 121 Ingraham Street, which had been an illegal dry cleaning facility. I knew that there was a men’s shelter on Johnson street because one day when I was shooting in the neighborhood, a man came up to me and asked for directions. I had a map and was able to help him. When I looked down the block, there were 20 or 30 men in red and blue jump suits and quite a number of vans. My guess was that they were participating in some sort of program where they were being taken from the shelter to parks to clean for the day. Due to the crowd and all the activity, I wasn’t able to find the site.

The McKibben Street site, a former chemical works, is right up the street. It has gotten considerably overgrown since I was last here in March. As far as I can tell from looking at those photos, this is some new stuff that has been dumped.

A bunch of stumps had also been dumped on the street. It was hard to tell where they were from.

It is just sad here.


Posted in Brooklyn Waterfront,Brownfield,Gravesend by Robin on June 29, 2009
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There are two sites on Shore Parkway on the state’s remediation list. One is considered remediated. It now appears to be Mercedes Benz dealership. The other is a petroleum bulk storage owned by Bayside Oil, 1776 Shore Parkway. A fortuitous number.


I like how the traffic arrow works here suggesting that things are flowing out of the site. In fact there is a petroleum plume on the southwest side of the storage tank.The tank is under the man-made hill to the right of the area in this second photo.


Then I walked over to Calvert Vaux Park. It was hot and although the map promised Gravesend Bay, it was not to be seen when I entered the park.

In one direction, you can see the tip of Coney island, in the other the Verranzano.

Sunset Park

Posted in Brownfield,Sunset Park by Robin on June 28, 2009
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I set out to Sunset Park today in hopes of getting something of the piers behind the Bush Terminal. There is a pool store that has an entrance at 50th and 1st. I had the vague plan that on Saturday afternoon it would look like I was going to the Pool store but I could walk around behind the building to Marginal Street and photograph the brownfield area. No such luck. Lots of security personnel as well as fences.

I was getting ready to leave, feeling discouraged, when I looked down 51st street and a very clear view of the water drew me down the street. At the actual waterfront I turned the corner and there through a chain link fence were the piers I was hoping to photograph. As I walked up to the fence to my left was a large pier that belongs to the Sanitation Department. There was a man on it. I asked him if he would mind if I took a few photos. He said ok, and I walked through the fence and now had a clear view o the brownfield area. We chatted and he walked me down the pier. The view of New York harbor was awesome and I could see the brownfield area. He told me there had been a seal in the area recently.
The end of the pier itself is collapsing.


Posted in Brownfield,Dumbo by Robin on June 25, 2009
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I went to find the site of the Front Street Station, a brownfield site, and another site, the Plymouth Street Holder that despite being an historic gas holder site is not designated as a brownfield.

There appears to be a warehouse directly on the spot where the gas holder stood on Front street.


A second holder was on the other side of the block that now fronts on the Farragut Houses. On the corner of Front Street and Gold is a Tibetan Buddhist Temple. I talked to the monk there. He told me he had been there for 20 years.


Across the street is a brand new condo apparently with people now living in it.

Down Gold Street is the site of another historic gas holder site, Plymouth Street Station. This block is partially occupied by Con Ed and partly residential. The foot print more or less matches exactly the footprint in 1898.

Across the street is the Hudson Avenue Generating Station.

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.


June 10th-Kings Plaza and Marine Park

Posted in Brownfield,Marine Park,Mill Basin by Robin on June 15, 2009
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According to the NYSDEC, on the plot to the east of Kings Plaza, Presto Plastics and a Standard Motor Oil Terminal both had facilities. Plus the entire site is covered with “historic landfill” contaminated with PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The NYSDEC remediation database states that the tanks and other equipment associated with the petroleum bulk storage have been excavated and those areas filled with clean soil. Now a Lowe’s is being built on that site.

A “soil vapor barrier and a sub slab soil vapor depressurization system” are required for the site by the NYSDEC. Looking at the site from Avenue U, I wondered if this was the soil vapor barrier.

To take a break from toxicity, Nina and I then headed to the salt marsh in Marine Park. About 10 blocks from Kings Plaza, it is beautiful and full of life.

We saw these Black-Crowned Night Herons as well as an egret.

There were hundreds of crabs as well has horseshoe crabs. It gave me some idea of what the rest of Brooklyn’s waterfront might have looked like esp the Gowanus area before industrialization.

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