Auto shop

The most radioactive place in New York is an auto shop

When the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company refined rare earth elements in the 1940s and 1950s, he acted responsibly with all the radioactive thorium waste he produced in the process: he threw it down the drain.

Now Los Primos Auto Repair is sharing the site with a trendy bar for a neighbour. It is New York’s most radioactive site, its second of three federal superfund sites. But neighborhoods aren’t just their industrial disasters, so let’s look at this important part of the city’s automotive world.

(Welcome back to car spotting! It’s been a while but we’re back with The Worst Walking Tour of New York City, led by me, a hack that barely qualifies to tell you how to get to the Empire State Building from here. We’re looking for the best cars in the Big Apple.)

It really is the city in a nutshell. Real estate is so tough, rents so high, auto repair shops are forced to stay on radioactive sites, and gentrification is so strong you’ll find a hip bar (it’s called Today) out the back.

The radioactivity in the area is not so strong that it greatly affects bystanders, only people exposed for long periods of time, day after day. Like, say, the auto mechanics who work there, or, increasingly, the journalists who return year after year to cover how the site always has not been cleaned up and repaired, even after being declared a federal superfund site in 2014, and its radioactivity being recognized since 1987, according to the EPA. At least the lead and steel plates (and layers of concrete) on the floor have been blocking some of the radiation for five years, because the New York Times reports.

Tried to speak with some Los Primos employees about what it was like in the area, but it was four o’clock on a Friday and no one would even say they were working there. The update, at least from a policy standpoint, is that under the Trump administration the EPA has claimed to make superfund sites a priority as it tries to reduce regulation, but that seems to be mostly a conversation. Trump has proposed to drastically cut funding for superfund sites, with funding already a fraction of what it was in the 1990s, as detailed in a WNYC report end of 2017.

But then again, this place on the edge of Ridgewood and Bushwick, Queens and Brooklyn, is more than just a struggling cleaning site. Shops are still open. People still live here and eat here and laugh here, and there are tons of interesting cars on the border of two boroughs.

Watch the full episode of Carspotting above and stay tuned for the next part of our series. The last time we went to Greenpoint and talked about Newtown Creek and then we leave for Gowanus, to inadvertently complete our series on what life is like around New York’s three superfund sites.