Complaints: Brooklyn Bridge construction noise, dust ruining neighbors' health

Residents living next to the Brooklyn Bridge say that years of non-stop noise and dust from the long-running bridge rehab project is ruining their sleep and their health.

Roberto Gautier, whose apartment at 140 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights overlooks the bridge, says the nightly drilling of jackhammers and annoying backup beeps of construction vehicles can’t be blocked out by white noise machines or air conditioners. Gautier also says that even with windows tightly closed, a fine dust seeps into the building, threatening residents’ cardiovascular health.

Gautier, a member of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Working Group, says residents of the building have experienced “almost continuous sleep deprivation” for roughly three years.

“People are really suffering,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “My wife wakes with heart palpitations every morning. Elderly people turn off their hearing aids, but they still feel the vibrations.

“Every night we see the convoy of trucks lining up around 10:30 to start the night shift,” he said. “If you have to go to work and get up at 6:30 or 7, you haven’t slept. We did a study in our building. People said they’ve nearly lost their jobs. They’re coming in late, they’re not with it.”

Even pets are getting stressed out, Gautier said. “Cats and dogs are suffering.”

The project is slated for completion by the end of 2015, but finishing touches could extend that into 2016.

 

Pets are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’

 

Leslie Boyce, a building resident who is also a member of the DOT Working Group, said, “We’re trying to get elected officials and DOT to understand the severity of the impact of the noise and pollution on the building and the surrounding area.

 “Dust and particulates are coming into our apartments,” she said. “I’ve broken out in rashes, and yesterday I woke up with a choking kind of sneeze. A number of cats in the building have the same ailments.” She said the building’s animals were exhibiting symptoms brought on by stress. “Irritable bowel, colitis. They’re the canaries in the coal mine.”

“You can feel a fine dust on the walls,” Boyce said. “Yesterday I had to vacuum the walls and ceiling and take down the curtains.

“It’s unfortunate that we cannot find a way to rehabilitate our infrastructure without understanding its impact on individuals’ health,” she said.

Gautier, a member of 140 Cadman’s “Peace and Quiet Committee” says the infuriating thing is that several noise mitigation measures exist, but DOT refuses to require Skanska Koch, the company performing the bridge work, to use them.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules allow trucks to disconnect their backup beeps “if they use spotters with batons,” Gautier said. This would be better than nothing, he said. “At least help us with that.”

Another solution would require the construction trucks to have backup video cameras, like those installed in cars that allow drivers to see what’s behind them.

In New York City, all construction projects must have a Construction Noise Mitigation Plan. The Brooklyn Bridge rehabilitation work occurs overnight, and thus requires an Alternative Noise Mitigation Plan (ANMP).

According to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), “An ANMP applies whenever strict compliance would result in unreasonable delay and/or increased expenditure for a necessary public improvement, and the alternative noise mitigation strategies, methods, procedures or equipment proposed are consistent with the purposes and policies of the NYC Noise Code.”

The project’s Noise Mitigation Plan, approved on April 18, 2011, includes measures such as storing machinery on the bridge to minimize motion, installing sound enclosures around equipment, using smaller jackhammers with mufflers, and hanging sound blankets on fences.

The mitigation plan “is a complete failure,” Gautier said. “We’ve met several times with their chief engineers. They say they can’t do anything.”

"We have repeatedly called for increased noise and dust mitigation and the concerns of the community are quite frankly not being addressed sufficiently,” City Councilmember Stephen Levin told the Eagle.

“Residents living near the Brooklyn Bridge have had to endure far too many sleepless nights and we need DOT to increase their mitigation efforts during construction."

While DOT did not answer our inquiry by press time, the agency says on a city website, “Noise generated by these units conforms to the NYC Noise Code standards adopted in 2007.”

The work on the bridge comes on top of an unhealthy mix of pollutants the residents of 140 Cadman are already soaking in, Gautier said. Not only is the high-rise right next to the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is hit with noise and air pollution from the 24/7 flow of vehicles on the Manhattan Bridge, the BQE, Cadman Plaza West and marine vessels.

A recent study in the New York Academy of Medicine’s Journal of Urban Health describes a link between exposure to traffic noise in New York City and cardiovascular disease.

“The area of 140 Cadman Plaza West . . . is a vortex of intense traffic, unhealthy noise and air pollution levels,” Gautier said.

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