Jewish Home Lifecare’s plan to build a nursing home in a parking lot on West 97th Street is facing renewed opposition after a study found that construction on the lot could release toxic levels of lead into the air.
The Park West Village Tenants’ Association, which has vocally opposed Jewish Home Lifecare’s plan to build the nursing home, held its first public meeting on the findings on Wednesday evening. Community members were notified of the potential lead levels last week, and more than 100 people, including residents and local officials, turned out for the meeting.
Martin Rosenblatt, a tenant association member who spearheaded the study, said documenting the lead involved taking more than 100 core and surface soil samples in 12 parking lots citywide that the New York City Housing Authority plans to redevelop. The results found that the West 97th Street parking lot had a higher level of lead than any of the NYCHA lots slated for development.
During his presentation at the meeting, Rosenblatt displayed letters from medical experts that supported his claim that the lead levels would be toxic. Rosenblatt said that, according to these experts, the consequences of continued lead exposure could include neuropathy, joint pain, brain damage, or loss of memory.
Lead can have a particularly severe impact on younger children, Rosenblatt said—a special concern, given that the proposed construction site borders an elementary school, P.S. 163.
Laurence Molloy, a specialist in air pollutants in the New York City metro area who helped conduct the study, discussed both the history of lead contamination and the way it has entered the parking lots.
Molloy said that although the government currently allows a certain amount of lead in the atmosphere, “it is widely assumed that there is no safe level of lead.”
“It’s important that the lead that exists already not be disturbed,” Molloy added.
JHL spokesperson Ethan Geto, CC ’65, said in a statement that “We knew nothing about the purported lead issue until last night. No findings or documentation has been provided to Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) to establish that there is contamination of the soil on the construction site that would require any kind of remediation.”
Geto added that if any contaminants on the construction site require remediation, JHL would remediate them fully.
PWVTA also circulated a petition urging Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York City Department of Health to release JHL’s environmental impact statement. Rosenblatt said that although JHL partnered with an independent agency for review, it failed to include an environmental impact statement as required by law.
In addition, Rosenblatt claimed that when he asked for documentation from the Department of Health, the department had lost the Freedom of Information request he placed and has been unresponsive.
Rosenblatt said it would be hard to trust Jewish Home Lifecare to take care of abatement.
“No developer tells you, ‘You know, this is going to be a mess,’” Rosenblatt said.
During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, residents said that the study’s findings were concerning and that they had reservations about JHL’s project.
In response to a question from Community Board 7 chair Mark Diller about the possibility of removing environmental contaminants assuming an environmental impact statement shows toxic lead levels, Rosenblatt said such remediation would be a long and costly process that could include removing contaminated underground water.
Christian Zhang contributed reporting.