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Air Brake forum could generate large turnout

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The group that has expressed concerns about toxic chemicals dumped years ago at the former New York Air Brake site expects as many as 200 people will attend today’s meeting with the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation.

Former East Division Street resident Andrew G. Williams, who helped organize recent efforts, said Tuesday that representatives from Erin Brockovich’s California law firm will attend the public informational session tonight. That meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at North Elementary School, 171 E. Hoard St.

“I just hope we get our questions answered,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams and two former neighbors, brothers Scott W. and James P. Barker, got Ms. Brockovich, a nationally known environmental activist, involved in looking into their concerns about the pollutants dumped at the Starbuck Avenue site decades ago.

In August, about 200 residents met with Robert W. Bowcock, an environmental investigator with Ms. Brockovich, to discuss their concerns. He and California attorney Chris Levinson will be at tonight’s meeting.

The group continues to work with Ms. Brockovich’s law firm and with City Manager Sharon A. Addison. Mr. Williams expects Ms. Brockovich, who was made famous in the 2000 movie named for her starring Julia Roberts, will come to Watertown at some point to discuss the issue because her son is stationed at Fort Drum.

The public meetings will allow residents to talk about their health problems and concerns over contamination, said DEC Region 6 Director Judy Drabicki.

“It’s going to be the first time to answer questions and explain what’s going on,” she said.

After the meetings, DEC technical engineers from the Watertown office and from Albany will decide what’s next and whether more testing should be done. If that happens, Air Brake would have to pay for that investigation, she said.

Representatives of the Health Department and DEC will meet privately first with Mr. Williams and a handful of north side residents who initiated the most recent questions about the site. Then, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the North Elementary School gymnasium, the agencies’ representatives will meet individually with residents who want to talk with them privately.

Residents have expressed concerns about levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, found in the neighborhood over the years. TCE and PCBs are carcinogens, while TCE can also cause nerve disorders.

During August, residents and former neighbors told stories about family members suffering nerve disorders, cancer and birth defects.

In 2008, DEC found unacceptable levels of TCE, an industrial solvent used at the Air Brake plant decades ago, in four on-site buildings and a house at 431 E. Hoard St., which subsequently was equipped with an air-mitigation system.

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