Schoolyard blight: Lower Manhattan parents and families say ‘no’ to toxic clean-up

“Get your poison away from our kids,” cried parents of Peck Slip and Blue schools in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon.

The cobblestone street between the Peck Slip elementary school and a parking lot, where a mercury clean-up is expected to be undertaken in January, felt the outrage of well over one hundred protesters on Nov. 16. From small children to seniors, members of the Seaport community arrived in force to shame Developer Howard Hughes for plans to build a 345-foot apartment complex, and, in doing so, would see the removal of harmful toxins residents say could injure both the young and old who live and are educated in the area.

Some parents say they are scared for their children. Photo by Dean Moses

“The mothers here are beside themselves. The best thing to do would be to leave it alone. You have two schools, you don’t have one. You have here and the Blue School down the street in an even narrower space,” Elaine Kennedy, a grandmother of a student at the Peck Slip School, told amNewYork Metro.

On the other side, the Howard Hughes Corporation believes that they are taking all necessary safety precautions in order to keep the community risk-free.

Some parents brought signs showing how they feel about the Hughes corporation. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are committed to the safe and thorough cleanup of the 250 Water St. site, which will occur under the oversight of the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health, just as hundreds of similar projects have been safely remediated across the state,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

However, to a community that has lived through the brunt of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many at the protest reminded that they have witnessed the devastation chemicals can have once airborne.

“We had 9/11 and we had all the government agencies telling us it’s safe. Now there are 60 different types of cancers, and we’re 60% more prone to them plus COVID, asthma, and now all these others, so we have already been here,” Kennedy said.

Kids line up to show off their signs. Photo by Dean Moses

Parents are also charging the Department of Education with holding their children hostage, preventing any transfers from taking place due to the proposed remediation.

“We are being told that they are stuck here. No excuses. Some with a child with a respiratory problem, a child with sensory perception issues, children with learning disabilities that could be easily distracted, they can’t be pulled,” said Stacy Shub, a concerned parent. 

Marching around the lot where the work is expected to take place, some protesters demanded greater transparency and safety protocols such as a tent to be placed over the area to prevent toxins from escaping while others demanded the work be postponed outright.

Students, local residents, and their families marched around the parking lot. Photo by Dean Moses

The Howard Hughes Corporation assured that the work has the DEC and DOH approval and there are several protections in place.

“Throughout that process, we will work closely with the Peck Slip and Blue schools to minimize any impact to operations and ensure a safe learning environment,” according to a statement from the corporation. “More broadly, we are hopeful that our neighbors will embrace the opportunity to welcome 80 families earning around $45,000 to an area where the median household income is more than $150,000, all made possible through a safe and thorough cleanup and temporary construction period. We are pleased that State DEC and DOH have approved our proposed Remedial Action Work Plan, noting that ‘the remedy is protective of public health and the environment,’ and we look forward to implementing that plan under State oversight and in close coordination with the community’s environmental consultant.”

Children joined their family by holding signs. Photo by Dean Moses