Sickening smell blankets Longwood

Joe Hirsch

Some suspect that garbage-hauling trains on tracks that run parallel to the Bruckner Expressway are behind foul air in Longwood, but the DEP says it is still investigating the source of the problem.

Residents say a stench like dead rats has become commonplace

Hunts Point and Longwood residents have long been subjected to more than their fair share of sickening smells, from the tailpipes of the area’s huge trucking fleets, to waste treatment facilities, to a noxious fertilizer company that residents helped shut down nearly five years ago.

Now, locals have a new olfactory assault to contend with, and opinions differ as to where it’s coming from. In fact, while some say the stench became noticeable some time in the last several months, others say it’s been fouling the air for far longer and has recently grown more acute.

Longwood resident and former Community Board 2 chair Orlando Marín said he began noticing the nauseating stench shortly after the new year while driving on the Bruckner Expressway. At first, he thought the major construction project on 149th Street and Prospect Avenue was to blame. As an architect who has worked with developers, Marín understood that construction companies routinely bait for rats in the initial stages of projects, and he assumed what he was smelling was just the temporary annoyance of rodents dying and rotting during the excavation process.

But five months later, the odor lingers.

“It smells like you’re carrying a dead rat under your nose all day long,” Marín says, adding he has continually called the community board office while driving or spending time outside, to report that, “I’m on the Bruckner. It stinks.”

At first, Community Board 2 staff informed him that it requested the city’s Department of Environmental Protection investigate the problem, and the agency reported back that garbage-hauling trains were at fault. Frustrated by the constant stink, however, Marín persisted. He called 311, then was referred to 911, and finally the 41st Precinct, but no one seems to have an answer.

Marín isn’t the only one seeking relief. Other residents who live around Southern Boulevard in Longwood similarly say the smell is making them sick.

Jessenia Torres, 27, says the odor frequently wafts up to the windows of her apartment at 725 Southern Blvd. Her son Alex, 6, and daughter Abigail, 9, both attend PS 62 at the corner of Fox Street. and Southern Boulevard a block away.  When the offending odor descends, Torres says, Abigail’s appetite disappears.

“What bothers me is when she smells it in her school and it makes her sick,” said Torres, adding she reached out to city officials in April. Two DEP representatives came to meet with her, she said, and, after driving around, told her the odor was coming from garbage-hauling trains sitting on CSX tracks adjacent to the Bruckner.

Board 2’s environmental committee chair, Ralph Acevedo, said that’s what the DEP has told him, too.

“All we’re asking is that they not keep any stationary trains,” said Acevedo. Though he acknowledges that hauling trash on trains instead of trucks has environmental benefits as it cuts down on emissions, “I don’t know if the price to pay is odors from garbage.”

In an email to The Express, a spokesman for the rail company wrote, “For many years, CSX has handled the shipment of containerized municipal solid waste from the New York City area to other parts of the country for disposal. Some of those trains are assembled at the Oak Point yard.” He added “there have been no recent changes to operations in that yard that would change the impact on the surrounding community, although weather and wind direction are factors that might affect the community’s awareness of these activities.”

The spokesman added that the waste is handled in sealed containers, is not transferred between containers locally, and “shipments are dispatched from the yard as soon as practicable.”

In fact, though, Jessenia Torres said she thinks the odor isn’t originating from the garbage trains at all. She says she has snuck onto the rail yard to catch a whiff of the evidence for herself, and came away convinced that that stench over Longwood isn’t the same one rising up from the CSX rail yard.

“It’s a totally different smell. This smells like dead rats—-or dead bodies,” she said, echoing a suspicion other local residents expressed—-that there may be a crematory in the area from which the scent could be drifting.

According to a directory maintained by the state agency that oversees crematories, the New York Department of State Division of Cemeteries, there is just one such facility operating in the Bronx, and it’s in Woodlawn—too far north to reach Longwood noses.

Wendy Garcia, who works the cash register at J & W Food Center across from PS 62 and has lived on Fox St. for eight years, doesn’t care what the source of the smell is; she wants it gone.

“I don’t know where it’s coming from, but the smell is horrible. We’re getting sick,” she said. “You get nauseous. This year, it’s so bad we can’t even open our windows (at home) and we keep the door (of the bodega) closed.”

While walking her son home from PS 62, another parent, Susie Harris, said there’s been a foul odor for years, but this year it’s worse.

“I figured it was coming from the Bruckner,” said Harris, who lives a block away from the school. “It smells like a corpse or dead rats. It bothers me because my son is asthmatic. When it smells, he walks around holding his nose because it comes through the window.”

Crossing guard Norma Delgado agreed the problem started about three years ago but this year is the worst it’s been.

“Everybody says, ‘how can you stay here?'” said Delgado, while waving children across Southern and Fox at the light.

In an email to The Express, a spokesman for the DEP said simply that the environmental agency is “actively investigating the source of the reported odor.” Board 2’s environmental committee chair Acevedo says the board will continue to push the city to identify the source.

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