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It took DEC two years to warn of toxic fumes in the Gowanus shuffleboard club


State environmental officials waited nearly two years to alert the public that carcinogenic vapors more than 20 times the amount considered safe have escaped from contaminated soil along the Gowanus Canal — and into a nearby shuffleboard club.

The Department of Environmental Conservation learned of the alarming levels of toxic fumes in March 2021 while conducting air quality tests indoors. Royal Palms Shuffle Board Club —but the hipster haven remained open the whole time, as the agency deemed the century-old building “safe.”

The agency documented the startling discovery only late last year public records Buried on his website.

On Friday, DEC spokeswoman Haley Viccaro admitted to The Post that she could have done a better job alerting local residents to the looming health risks, and is “evaluating potential improvements to enhance this process and making sure that information is clear and informative about this science.” Comprehensive.- Efforts based on protecting public health.”


Co-owner Jonathan Schnapp said the club remained open because the DEC assured him it was safe.

The news came as a heartbreaking blow to the residents of Gwanus who are now battling cancer.

“I can pretty much draw a line on where I live as to why I get cancer,” said longtime resident Margaret Maugenest, 71, who lives a block away from the club. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.

“There is no history of cancer in my family; I eat well; I have a healthy lifestyle, and yet I have had colon cancer and I read about all these carcinogens in the soil that we surround ourselves with.”


Gowanus channel.
The Gowanus Canal is one of the most polluted waterways in the country.
Helen Seidman

These discoveries were only made public thanks to the folk group Voice of Gowanus, which hired the Ithaca-based environmental database firm Toxics Targeting, which recently unearthed the DEC documents.

Records showed that in March 2021 air levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent, were about 22 times higher than acceptable levels for a shuffleboard club.

“DEC in 2021 should have put up signs at the clubhouse, posted general notices in local newspapers, and mailed alerts to people in the neighborhood,” said Walter Hung, who heads Toxics Targeting. “All they’ve done is provide obscure references in thick technical documents that ordinary citizens don’t know or can’t decipher.”


Margaret Mugenist.
Margaret Mauginest, 71, is a longtime Gowanus resident who lives a block away from the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.
Courtesy Walter Hang

certified country project Currently underway to reduce fumes by venting underground pollutants. Several follow-up tests over the past two years – including one in November – have shown air quality in the hipster hotspot to be at “safe” levels although slight traces of trichloroethylene still remain.

However, some of the club’s longtime patrons and staff fear that their health may actually be in danger because it is unclear how long the indoor air at Royal Palms has been toxic.

“I blame the state government 100%, but at this point I’m done going back there for my own safety – which is sad because I had so many nights there,” said a Park Slope resident who played in the Royal Palms shuffleboard championships. Since 2019.


Royal Palms sign.
The century-old building is a hipster’s haven.
Helen Seidman

The person added, “Environmental laws in this country are very weak and difficult to enforce, and the fact that this went unnoticed for so long is an example of how weak they are.”

Royal Palms opened in 2014 at 514 Union Street, in the building Formerly used as a die-cutting factory. It is one of many former manufacturing sites in the neighborhood whose underground soil is saturated with toxic coal tar, a by-product of the former companies that made coal gas.

Over the past century, much coal tar—called “black mayonnaise” by ancient residents—has seeped into the Gowanus Canal, one of the most polluted waterways in the country. It is undergoing an extensive federal cleanup.


Inside Royal Palms.
Royal Palms opened in 2014.

The DEC learned that the Royal Palms had air quality issues after the building’s owners, Avery Hall Investments, applied for financial assistance in early 2021 through the state’s Brownfield cleanup program moving forward. A larger multi-use development With housing on adjacent property that you own.

However, local residents said they were not aware until a plan to repair the site was updated in December and the DEC sent out fact sheets in an email that many of them never got.

Jonathan Schnapp, co-owner of the Royal Palms, said the club remained open because the DEC had assured him it was safe.


Construction site of a building on Union and 3rd Ave, across the street from Royal Palms.
The toxicity was reportedly discovered during tests in 2021.
Helen Seidman

“We’re not scientists, not experts, but we trusted DEC; we still trust DEC, and we wouldn’t do anything to put our employees or our community at risk,” Schnapp said, adding that the club recently signed a lease extension to stay in business until at least 2033. .

Viccaro said DEC “did not have information on the potential for contamination” until the site owner was accepted into the state cleanup program because “there are currently no requirements” for indoor air testing. She described Royal Palms’ mitigation system as “effective”.

However, Hang and several Gowanus residents said the clean-up project doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t completely purify the toxic soil lurking under and around the building – only some of it.


Hazardous waste drums in the lot next to Royal Palms.
Hazardous waste drums in the lot next to Royal Palms.
Helen Seidman

“The state should start proactively addressing sites like this that are here right away,” said Seth Hellinger, a 46-year-old software developer who lives nearby and occasionally frequents the Royal Palms.

“This should not only be a warning sign for this business, but for the many others that are built along toxic sites along the canal.”



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