Don’t-Drink-the-Water Street

The square-block parking lot in the South Street Seaport district purchased by Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) last summer as a development site may be contaminated with multiple toxins.

At the January 2 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Manuel Romero, co-chair of that panel’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee reported that the site was applying to enter the “brownfield cleanup” program operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“There was a former thermometer factory located in that area and they found some mercury,” he explained. “They also found an underground tank which leaked some petroleum. So this cleanup is certainly very necessary.”

The site, located at 250 Water Street, is located directly across the street from two schools: the Peck Slip School and the Blue School. The length of Peck Slip between the school and the parking lot is closed to traffic on schools days, so that it can be used as an outdoor play area for students.

Last June, HHC, which already owns or leases large tracts of land in the South Street Seaport District, announced that it was buying an additional full block, consisting of the one-acre parking lot (bounded by Pearl, Beekman, and Water Streets, as well as Peck Slip) from Milstein Properties for $180 million.

According the documents on file with the DEC, multiple contaminants have been identified in soil, groundwater, and soil gas (the air that is trapped between loosely packed particles of earth). These toxins include mercury, lead, petroleum, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chlorinated solvents, as well as various volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds.

Mercury was found to be concentrated in the soil at levels of up to 120 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), which is more than 600 times higher than the DEC’s soil cleanup objective for unrestricted use of land. Lead was detected in the groundwater on the site at levels of up 725.5 micrograms per liter, which is more than 700 times the DEC’s guidance level of one microgram per liter.

The volatile organic compound xylene was found in the soil at concentrations of up 180 (mg/kg), which is almost 7,000 times the soil cleanup objective for unrestricted use of land. The soil also contains polychlorinated biphenyls at concentrations of up to 4.57 (mg/kg), which is nearly 50 times the DEC’s soil cleanup objective. The volatile organic compound benzene was detected at levels of up to 330 micrograms per liter. The DEC’s target for benzene is ground water is one microgram per liter.

The DEC’s brownfield program is designed to encourage private-sector cleanups of contaminated sites and to promote their redevelopment as a means to revitalize “economically blighted communities.” (It is not clear how the South Street Seaport qualifies as such a zone.) The program leaves cleanup to property owners and the contractors they hire, while providing technical oversight, and three kinds of incentives: funding to offset the cost of cleanup, tax credits, and liability relief, which absolves the land owner of future legal claims related to any contaminants that were removed from the site during the cleanup.


  1. Eric F. says

    The Howard Hughes Corporation is already taking advantage of the local community by hiring non building trade (non union contractors) to do work in the area they lease in the seaport and it is a disgrace! They are making money hand over fist at the expense of the exploited non union construction workers. It is my belief that when handing over the control of this large piece of land for them to control there should have been a stipulation that they use the NYC Union Building Trades to fit out all of the properties, not just the core and shell of their new mall. After all this is our community. We should want to bring in good wage jobs.

  2. tom says

    My son attends Prek-K at the Peck Slip School, which is directly adjacent to the development site. Please don’t put my child and every other child’s health at risk with this development for the sake of economic development. This site is no place for any cleanup of toxic chemicals. Don’t make this another Flint, MI, when we can avoid it now!!!

  3. Linda Roche says

    We invite all Seaport residents, business owners and parents to a Town Hall Meeting to educate and discuss the Brownfield Cleanup and what is means to us.

    Town Hall Meeting
    Save the Date
    Monday, February 25, 2019
    Defending the Seaport Historic District
    250 Water St. Parking Lot

    Time:​​​7:00 PM
    Location: ​​Southbridge Towers Community Room at 66 Frankfort Street
    (Located at the center of the complex near Squire’s Diner)
    Presented by: ​Seaport Planning & Preservation Committee of Southbridge Towers

    The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) recently purchased the large parking lot site at 250 Water Street across from the Peck Slip and Blue Schools and numerous residences and senior communities.
    All indications are that they want to build a tall, inappropriate building at that site which is part of the South Street Seaport Historic District.
    They have just informed the community that this site contains toxins including mercury and petroleum and they intend to excavate it soon according to their Brownfield Cleanup application.
    Come and find out the impact of these proposals on our quality of life. Learn more about what we can do to give our community a real say in these matters. Please join us!! Let your voice be heard. More information to follow.

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