Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vapor Intrusion Law: Food for Thought on Gowanus Residential Development

The Chair of CB6 was thoughtful enough to share this article from the New York Law Journal with the Community Board.

This is something to think long and hard about when contemplating the Gowanus rezoning and the appropriateness of concentrated residential development on these contaminated sites. An excerpt:
Vapor intrusion is a potentially harmful condition in which volatile chemicals in soil and groundwater emit fumes that enter buildings; such chemicals are often present at old industrial properties, or where a former industrial property has been redeveloped for commercial or residential use.

In the past, many state environmental regulators, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), had not included vapor intrusion as a consideration when granting closure for cleanup of contaminated properties because the general thought was that chemicals could stay in the ground under a building, as the foundation was a barrier preventing contact with those chemicals.

More recent evidence has shown this is not always the case, as some chemicals can penetrate foundations at levels that raise health and safety concerns for the occupants. However, NYSDEC and other state regulatory agencies granted hundreds of site closures without always accounting for the possibility of vapor intrusion exposures.

Over the past several years, NYSDEC and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) have been investigating the vapor intrusion issue, including reopening "closed" remediation cases and setting new standards for human exposure. Other states (e.g., California, New Jersey) are taking similar steps with respect to vapor intrusion.

Thus the concept of the new law clearly is a good one. However, NYSDEC, which is largely responsible for enforcement of the Tenant Notification Law, has to date offered no formal interpretive guidance on the applicability of the law or how it will be enforced. As discussed further below, there are numerous vague and undefined terms and ambiguous provisions in the statute that have created confusion and challenges for the regulated community members and their advisors.

The whole article is worth reading for those that don't mind getting into the weeds of a legal discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very real concern for the Gowanus Canal vacinity is possibility of vapor intrusion exposures arising from the canal water itself. In the TOLL EIS there was clear concern for the ait qulaity due to the pour water quality; which is do to the ongoing problem of sewage overflow. The air vapor could be particularly problematic during summer months when windows are open.
Isn't it time for our city planner to weigh the problems of using this area for residential purposes and consider how this area might beter ber redeveloped to fill other needs. There once was a federal program: Brownfields/Brightfields that helped redevelope brownfields with alternative energy projects. A field of solar panels atop a re-engineered wetlands brownfield might be a better long term use for sites like the Toll Brother's Gowanus loacatio.