Is it dangerous? That's what parents, residents, and community leaders in Middle Village, Queens are asking about the huge piles of dirt contaminated with lead stored directly across the street from P.S. 128.
It has been on the property of contractor CAC Industries for at least five months, but people were only told about it recently.
City Councilman Robert Holden uncovered the information after asking the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) why work on a nearby $22 million sewer project had been halted. He was told it was due to lead being found in the excavated soil.
CAC Industries first brought the contaminated dirt to a dump, but it was rejected. That's when the contractor brought it to the storage yard across from the school. The DDC says it did not know there was lead in the soil when it was taken to the storage yard.
"To make matters worse, it was uncovered," Holden said. "There was no tarp on it when we discovered it."
The councilman held a press conference and planted a red flag at the site to alert parents to the possible dangers. How much lead is in that dirt?
"I was told between 300 and 600 parts per million of lead," Holden said.
Sam Miller, the associate commissioner of the Department of Health, told frightened parents and residents that levels over 400 ppm can start to become hazardous. He said because the contaminated dirt piles were kept behind a fence, school children and residents had no access to it.
But Holden pointed out that exposure to lead dust is a common cause of lead poisoning. The dirt had been left uncovered for months in a windy area.
"I would drive by and it was a dust storm," he said. "You could hardly see, it was so thick."
Air monitors have been set up around the school and adjacent homes.
"Continuous air monitoring has found no hazard in the air," a DDC spokesman said. "DDC removed most of the soil last Saturday and will removed the remainder this coming Saturday."
It is being taken to a hazardous waste dump in New Jersey. The spokesman says, while it is not illegal for CAC to store the contaminated dirt next to a school, "DDC will discontinue use of the site."
Holden has also learned about some very high lead levels found at the sewer project site on 74th Street. The DDC acknowledges levels as high as 2,340 ppm have been found, a level considered hazardous.
CAC CEO Michael Capasso did not answer our written questions. DDC says it is investigating how the contaminated soil has been handled.
Despite the assurances from the DDC and Health Department that there is no present danger to students or neighbors, Holden says he is skeptical.
"Environmentally, I don't believe anything the government says."