People canoeing on the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

A borough of superlatives, Brooklyn contains a number of toxic sites, not a few of which are also historic and storied. But walking by some of them, you wouldn’t necessarily know they’re hazardous.

While not everyone is concerned, we’re sure others would like to know where in Brooklyn toxic sites might be found — and some of the stories behind these former industrial sites. Below, some of the borough’s worst offenders.


Photo via Greenpointers

Demolition may soon commence at Greenpoint’s maligned NuHart Plastics Superfund site, where the Fire Department shut down a massive rave this past Halloween over safety issues. Though a concerned local wrote to tell Brownstoner that the warehouse — which contains and sits on top of toxic chemicals — would be torn down starting today, the developer assured us that the wrecking ball isn’t in place just yet.


Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal is Joseph Alexiou’s ode to one of New York’s filthiest waterways. The history buff’s book details over 300 years of Gowanus history, from marshland to high rise.

Brownstoner talked with Alexiou about the origins of his love for the polluted canal, and historic parallels between today’s Brooklyn and that of a century ago.


A toxic ghost from Brooklyn’s industrial past is being met not with an artisan makeover, but removal by National Grid. Cleanup of the empty lot at 50 Kent Avenue, which hosts Brooklyn Flea and various outdoor music shows, will start soon, according to a notice posted this month from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In addition to various music and culture fests, the lot has also been hosting soil contaminated by coal-tar. A designated state Superfund site owned by the Parks Department, the waterfront venue may be considered a mainstay of North Brooklyn culture, but from 1850 to 1930 it was home to the Williamsburg Works Manufactured Gas Plant, according to DNAinfo.


The distinctive curved facade on the polluted Harte & Company factory in Greenpoint could survive, an owner’s rep told the Brooklyn Eagle. But the 1930s Arte Moderne factory at 280 Franklin Street is still going to become apartments, likely a multi-building complex.

Yi Han of Experta Group said she’s working with the architects to save some piece of the unique corner, because “very few places in New York have that. It’s like a witness to the transformation of the neighborhood.”


Developer Sam Boymelgreen last week filed permits for a 162-room hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus. The building will not be new, but rather an enlargement of the four-story factory to seven stories. The density (square footage) will remain the same, according to New York YIMBY, which first reported on the plans.

Boymelgreen does not own the property but rather has a 49-year lease, as we reported previously. In February, a story in The Real Deal about Boymelgreen’s Windsor Terrace development The Kestrel noted 255 Butler Street would be a hotel or office. Not quite a decade ago, the city refused a variance that would have permitted the owner to convert the property to residential.

On the first floor will be stores, a restaurant, coffee shop, terrace, gym, library and event space, according to the application. Rooms will be located on the second through seventh floors, with another restaurant, a pool and terrace on the fifth floor. The applicant of record is SBLM Architects.

Also, the site, an old printing plant, is contaminated. We’re not sure if this alteration requires a brownfield cleanup.

Plans to rezone the area were put on hold pending the EPA cleanup but could be revived following a year-long series of public meetings about the future of Gowanus in which residents said they did not want tall buildings but the report said they did.

Hotels are a popular type of development in industrial areas where residential development is not permitted. In an effort to preserve factory jobs and the character of industrial neighborhoods, the City Council recently recommended a change to city’s factory zoning that would not permit hotels.

Permits Filed: 162-Key Hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus [NYY]
255 Butler Coverage [Brownstoner]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark


Will Gowanus be the next Dumbo? A story in the Times over the weekend suggests yes. The fact that it is home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the country has not deterred development there. The story gives an overview of all the development happening there, which will be familiar to Brownstoner readers, including the 700-unit rental project Lightstone Group is building and the condo development at 345 Carroll Street, as well as all the retail that has opened lately, such as Whole Foods and Ample Hills.

Two interesting factoids: Councilmember Brad Lander is working to change the zoning of the area from industrial to mixed-use, which would mean more housing could be built. And Gowanus Green, Hudson Companies’ affordable 774-unit development on 5th Street, is “stalled until the site’s former owner, National Grid, completes a voluntary environmental cleanup.”

Gowanus Is Counting on a Cleanup [NY Times]