You might imagine the most radioactive place in New York City to be some sort of rogue lab or weapons dump, but the truth is that it is a nondescript Queens auto shop called Primo Autobody Repair.
The small repair shop has earned the ignominious distinction not from any fault of its own, but thanks to the land the business is built on. The shop operates out of a 100-year-old structure that was once home to the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, a firm which specialized in removing rare earth minerals from sand.
One of the byproducts of their operation was a highly radioactive substance known as Thorium. In the beginning, the Thorium was poured into the sewers or buried underground. However, eventually, Thorium was used as fuel in nuclear weapons and people began purchasing the material from Wolff-Alport, giving them more reason to produce it. When the nuclear demand dried up, the overstock Thorium was once again simply buried or dumped. This left the ground under and around the shop veritably glowing with emanating radiation.
Even today, the radiation in the ground continues to contaminate the site. It is estimated that workers in the Primo shop received three times the safe amount of radiation each year. Protection was put in place between October 2012 and April 2014. Lead shielding, capped with a layer of concrete, was installed inside three buildings and a steel plate was welded in place on top of the sidewalk.
Visit Queens with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cache, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.