New Toxic Fume Menace ID'd, Investigated

In 1937, the New York Times printed an obituary for prominent Jewish entrepreneur and philanthropist David Kliegman. He was the owner of Kliegman Brothers, Inc., a large laundry and dry cleaning service.

Today, the former Kliegman Brothers warehouse sits on a quiet residential block in Queens. The laundry business closed in 1999, and now the warehouse stores imported food.

Maybe it shouldn't: Besides philanthropic dollars, Mr. Kliegman left another legacy -- the toxic carcinogen perchloroethylene, or PERC -- an environmental pollutant that caused the warehouse to be registered as a toxic clean-up site, requiring a Superfund cleanup. This was well under way when, four years ago, the state department of environmental conservation decided to go back to the site and check for another kind of pollution: toxic fumes.

DEC spokesman Yancy Roy explains that new detection technology allows the state to look for chemical vapors emitting from 421 former clean-up sites like Kliegman's, which it started doing this week. Ten sites in the city are still being looked at, including P.S. 141 on Fifth Avenue.

Kliegman's is one of three sites where the investigation has been closed, and one of two sites the state environmental agency had decided was emitting toxic fumes in which, according to a 2006 agency report on the site, "the presence of hazardous waste has created significant threats to human health."

The other site is a superfund in Jamaica, Queens called West Side Corporation. Like many toxic sites, it was once a dry cleaners (Today PERC is still the most common chemical used in dry cleaning, and when it leaks into the ground, as it often does, it stays a long time and it's very toxic.

The government is currently doing remediation work on both sites, which involves slowly releasing the fumes, which are trapped beneath the basement, into the air. Dale Desnoyers, the director of environmental remediation for the state of New York, tells the Voice that, according to scientific studies, releasing these chemicals into the air is not harmful to human health.

Besides the older sites, the state now routinely checks for chemical vapors, which is how the toxic so-called "Meeker corridor" in Greenpoint was discovered a few years ago. That pollution was not caused by a dry cleaning operation, but by an oil spill back in the seventies.

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