‘That corridor is a lost land’: Fears of lead exposure amid abatement arise under 7 train trestle in Jackson Heights

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Fears from the past surfaced as Cristina Furlong came across signs on Roosevelt Avenue near 82nd Street warning residents of exposure to lead posted by the MTA as the agency works to repaint the entire span of elevated track.

Furlong’s son was born with elevated lead levels in his blood stream, and although it is unclear whether any current or future conditions in the 10-year-old can be attributed to the 7 train rumbling just a half block away it would seem the likely culprit to Furlong.

Now Furlong wonders if the MTA is taking proper precautions in protecting the public, many of whom are children she observed walking on the sidewalk within the work zone.

There are not barriers blocking people from walking freely on the sidewalk, just signs and vacuums to such up some of the debris as the workers grind decades of paint away to reveal bare steel.

“That corridor of Roosevelt Avenue is a lost land, so to speak,” Furlong said. “It’s very disturbing to see a sign that says lead paint and nothing else.”

The controversy surrounding the 7 train’s lead issue goes back to a 2017 report published by the District 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades proving that particles containing 224,000 parts per million of lead paint, more than 40 times the 5,000 parts per million legal threshold, fall from the trestle.

The late state Senator Jose Peralta, who died just after losing a September 2018 primary to Jessica Ramos, and Councilman Daniel Dromm took the lead in pressuring the MTA to fast track lead abatement for the tracks considering the number of families and food vendors along the corridor.

Peralta passed legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December 2017 requiring the MTA to address the issue as part of any work that takes place on the tracks.

His successor, Ramos, claims to be keeping a keen eye on the work to remediate the steel trestle with a staffer telling QNS they have requested warnings in more languages as Jackson Heights is primarily Spanish-speaking, among others.

“While the work done by the MTA along the 7 line is appreciated, we are yet to see the signage we’ve requested now for a few weeks. Lead is dangerous and our community must be notified in the top languages spoken,” Ramos said in a statement to QNS.

In June 2018, New York City Transit President Andy Byford announced a two-year project would begin to repaint the tracks in two segments. The first phase of the project was decided to run from 82nd Street and Citi Field and cost $45 million.

Now on Roosevelt, some sections of the track gleam with a fresh coat of paint.

While Furlong felt disheartened by the death of Peralta, she hoped that Councilman Daniel Dromm would continue advocating in government for safer conditions along the track.

Dromm’s office did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

“The MTA needs to better when it comes to every aspect of lead abatement,” Councilman Francisco Moya said. “I was proud to work with the DC 9 painters Union to expose the toxic lead levels that were nearly 50 times above the allowable limit but years later it’s still clear that the MTA has more work to do. As the MTA works to modernize its system, the authority must improve its outreach and transparency to make the subway safer for everyone — the New Yorkers who ride it and those who have to live with it.”

As far as the MTA is concerned, however, a spokesman said the work zone meets all safety and health requirements pertaining to lead and that workers are equipped to mitigate exposure.

“Safety is the MTA’s top priority. This repainting project will rehabilitate the aging 7 line structure for generations to come,” the agency said. “The signage in this tweet meets OSHA requirements and NYC Transit employees are providing oversight to ensure that all work is being performed in accordance with applicable health and safety regulations.”

Power tools shrouded in enclosures with HEPA filters in accordance to Environmental Protection Agency and outreach was done at community boards, the MTA said.

The MTA also contended that the signage made it clear to the public not to enter the area, but according to a representative for Ramos, a complaint to her office had prompted a request for postings in different languages.

More from Around New York