Superfund Sites in Our Backyard: of Greenpoint Plume/s Meeting Recap

by Heather Van De Mark on

Last Wednesday, a group of like-minded residents got together at The Sunview Luncheonette (a fabulously intimate, iconic Greenpoint community space) to talk about the Meeker Avenue Plumes. Organized by Dylan Gautheir and Alex Zucker, the meeting was an opportunity for residents to learn more about the plumes in an un-official, community-oriented capacity, And like everyone there, I learned a lot about the issue and enjoyed the openness and frankness of the conversation.

There were three speakers: Ryan Kuonen, Mike Schade and T. Wilis Elkins. You can read their bios here. These three were actually a perfect mix of speakers.

Ryan spoke mostly from personal experience. She had spent time in Valdez, Alaska and then moved to Greenpoint, only to learn that she had transitioned from one Exxon oil spill to another. Wanting to know more, she did a lot of on-the-ground investigation–biking around the neighborhood and eventually leading tours to educate others. She also became Chair of CB1’s Environmental Protection Committee, a position that had been vacant for over a year, which is kind of appalling given the environmental burdens that CB1 faces. She brought up great points regarding how disguised the community’s environmental issues are due to our “developed environment.” The community, particularly newer residents, might not realize the extent of the pollution because we can’t see it, there are no visual markings of the contamination.

Willis ended the evening by presenting some abstract visuals reflecting his journey to navigate the available environmental information. His graphics really emphasized how impenetrable the “public information” is—acronyms and jargon, dense writing, out-of-context data points and maps, and more. He observed that for a lay person to educate themselves on these very political, scientific issues it’s much like visiting a foreign country with its own language and customs. Willis’ presentation left me wondering, don’t officials/city agencies have some responsibility to communicate this information at a more basic level to the public? [Side note: I once worked for a city health department and all public communications had to follow a rubric, wherein the language didn’t surpass an 8th-grade reading comprehension.]

Presentation by Mike Schade on Meeker Ave Plumes.

Mike gave the most robust presentation [PDF] specifically regarding the Meeker Avenue plumes. A very short overview: The Meeker Avenue Plumes were only recently identified (see map below) in 2008. They were found as a result of exploring the oil spills’ environmental impact, but are actually unrelated. The plumes act as a bit of a blob, moving slowly underground over time. Currently, there are five locations/businesses designated as Superfund sites that caused/greatly contributed to the plumes. Officials are expected to name up to five more Superfund locations in the neighborhood.

Why are the plumes a concern? The plumes contain some terrible pollutants including TCE and PERC/PCE, which have been scientifically linked to minor health issues (dizziness and headaches) to major ones (brain and nervous system damage, and cancer). For example, from the Spic and Span Cleaners and Dyers, Inc. site:

“PCE has been found in shallow groundwater at concentrations up to 39,000 [parts per billion], and in deep groundwater at concentrations up to 120,000 ppb, well above the Part 703.5 class GA standard of 5 ppb.”

The health concern mostly revolves around long-term exposure, and exposure to older residents, children and pregnant women. The plumes contamination can seep into home via vapor intrusion (meaning you’re much more likely to breathe in the chemicals rather than eating/drinking them.) If you live above a plume, you can have your home tested for free by the DEC/DOH: contact Dawn Hettrick, deh02@health.state.ny.us, 518-402-7860.

Mike mentioned that official agencies do want to clean-up these environmental hazards, but right now, they’re just trying to understand it. The DEC has put in over 100 monitoring wells in Greenpoint to continue taking samples.

For more information on the plumes:

Heather Van De Mark

Heather Van De Mark

Heather is a designer/writer specializing in non-profit organizations and social causes. Originally from central NY, Heather settled into the charming Greenpoint neighborhood in 2011. While most of her community activism takes place from behind a computer screen, Heather can often be found at CB1 meetings, the McCarren Park track and any of the parks along the waterfront.

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