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Group looking for north side residents to get involved in Air Brake case


The group of north side residents concerned with environmental issues from the former New York Air Brake site is looking for other people to join its planned lawsuit.

Andrew G. Williams, one of the organizers who brought up health and environmental issues last summer, said residents are being encouraged to provide medical information and fill out a retainer form by Monday so that lawyers can examine the information before a notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit, is filed this winter.

“We believe everyone on the north side of the city should fill out a health questionnaire,” said Mr. Williams, who grew up on East Division Street and now lives on Washington Street.

In recent months, 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 also can cause nerve disorders.

Mr. Williams and his former neighbors, brothers Scott W. and James P. Barker, have retained the Vititoe Law Group, the California law firm made famous in the movie about environmental activist Erin Brockovich, to represent them. Los Angeles environmental attorney Thomas V. Girardi also is involved in the case.

The two brothers and Mr. Williams said they believe that anyone who lived, worked or attended city schools on the north side or had a family member die of possible effects of pollution should provide medical information. Anyone playing in or near Kelsey or Oily creeks may have been exposed to chemicals.

The residents may have suffered from a long list of health effects, including neurological, kidney, liver, respiratory and reproductive problems, birth defects, nerve disorders, chromosomal damage, a variety of cancers and other health issues.

The forms are available through a group website, The retainer covers only physical damages for now and not property damage losses. So far, about 300 people have been contacted to get involved in the case, with Mr. Williams even going door to door to let people know about it.

In 2008, the state Department of Environmental Conservation 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. It has been monitoring levels since then.

Scott Barker has maintained that 16.58 tons of TCE were disposed of from 1952 to 1969 by “dumping down the drain” and into the city storm and sanitary sewer. An additional 6.99 tons were disposed of from 1970 to 1977 in the industrial landfill by “pouring onto the ground,” he said.

In responding to resident complaints, DEC announced plans to conduct a 10-year review of the cleanup of Kelsey Creek and nearby tributaries that is expected to be completed this spring. The state Department of Health also may conduct a study on patterns of birth defects, cancer and low birth rates possibly associated with pollutants dumped at the site.

In 1995, DEC dredged Kelsey Creek and removed contaminants and soil. Those were taken to the Purdy Avenue and industrial landfills, where they were capped off.

If the case goes forward, the lawsuit most likely would be against New York Air Brake; Knorr-Bremse Group, the company’s current parent company, and SPX Corp., the North Carolina company that was involved in previous cleanup efforts.

It will take several months to go through the medical information; the lawsuit most likely won’t be filed for another six months, James Barker said.

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