Michelle Kim

Queens Business Owners Worry Ahead of Toxic Site Cleanup

A toxic site of a former chemical company in Queens is finally being cleaned up by the federal government, but business owners aren't happy about being forced out for the project.

The site of the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company in Ridgewood is being cleaned up after workers spent decades regularly burying chemical waste there and dumping the rest in the sewer from the early 1920s through 1954. 

The EPA deemed the land along Irving and Cooper avenues toxic and began planning to clean up the Superfund site, which borders the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Businesses on the site include a deli, office space, several auto repair shops and warehouses. 

One of the businesses owners, Alberto Rodriguez, says he's worked and saved to buy his shop. He's worried that he'll never get his slice of the American Dream back.

"My business is here. When I go somewhere, the people don't follow," he said. 

Renzo Vicencio co-owns a motorcycle shop and said he didn't know that the site was being studied for potential toxicity. 

"I knew something was going on, but I didn't pay attention," said Vicencio. "We just wanted to work." 

The EPA released this week a 313-page report explaining why people on the site have to move, and reiterated that a public comment period was held in August. Cleanup will cost $39.9 million, including for moving, demolition, excacation, sewer removal and cleaning, and getting rid of the toxic soil. Business owners say the EPA has promised help in the displacement, including for moving.

"We got to do what we have to do, if we have to move," said Vincencio. "So far, they are saying they are going to help us." 

But what the business owners still don't know is where they'll go, or if the customers will follow. 

"If we find a place, we don't know how we are going to go or how it's going to be. We want to keep on doing it," said Vincencio. 

For now, business owners want a clear timeline from the EPA. They're hoping they'll have six months to a year before the big move. 

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