By Natalie Duddridge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A group of parents and residents are calling on government to pause a construction project at the South Street Seaport.

The development is set to be built on the site of a former thermometer factory.

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People who live in the area worry toxins released will put kids and neighbors in danger.

As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported, parents dropping their children off at the Peck Slip School Wednesday morning sounded the alarm about their kids’ health and safety.

“On the perimeter of this lot, inches from where our kids play, there were elevated levels of mercury vapor,” said parent Megan Malvern.

“I’m scared, because I really want my outdoor play space,” said student Clark Malvern.

Reports show in the 1900s the parking lot directly next to the school was home to several factories: A chemical and glue company, as well as a thermometer factory. The Howard Hughes Corporation purchased the lot, and plans to build a massive condo building as early as January 2022.

“They have to provide a summary of what the findings are in the soil samples. They found PCBs, other volatile organic compounds, mercury, lead,” said parent Grace Lee.

“We are beside ourselves since this whole thing broke with the mercury and the toxins. We are a post-9/11 community,” added area resident Elaine Kennedy.

Kennedy lives across the street. She said it’s extremely troubling for tenants, who were told it was safe to breathe the air in Lower Manhattan after 9/11, and now it’s like deja vu.

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“A very personal issue for me,” Kennedy said. “We are highly suspicious of government agencies telling us it’s safe.”

Last month, at a virtual community board environmental protection meeting, an engineering consultant hired by the developer downplayed concerns.

“When we performed the remedial investigation we did not identify mercury vapor on the site. Mercury was also not identified in ground water,” the consultant said.

But a clinical professor of environmental health at NYU submitted a letter to the community board saying “mercury may be the least of the community’s potential chemical exposures. There are dozens of chemicals, including irritants, neurotoxins, renal toxicants, carcinogens.”

Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller and a parent of a former student, said he isn’t against the new building, but wants it to be done slowly and carefully.

“The mayor should shut this down. The governor should intervene,” Stringer said.

Experts say the asphalt cap on the parking lot has, to some extent, kept contaminants in place. The concern is once digging begins, toxins could be released into the air.

“Now the school is required to keep all the windows open for fresh air circulation for our unvaccinated children. It’s simply not safe to do this kind of work right now,” Lee said.

The advocates said the full picture of possible contamination is not yet known, and they’re just asking for transparency.

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CBS2 has reached out to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and is waiting for a response.

Natalie Duddridge