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Bombshell oil spill study

State, Exxon knew of risks

May 26, 2006 | New York Daily News

State officials and ExxonMobil executives have known for as long as 10 years that potentially toxic gases escaped from a massive Greenpoint oil spill, court papers show.

The environmental group Riverkeeper recently made the discovery in two reports released by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the oil company as part of a lawsuit.

"If Exxon knew at the time [of a 1997 City Council hearing on the matter] about this study, then the people have been sold a false bill of goods," said Riverkeeper investigator Basil Seggos.

State DEC officials have repeatedly insisted the massive underground oil spill first discovered in 1978 was not toxic.

But a 1996 report conducted for Eldorado, Ltd., a coffee roasting company considering moving to an industrial lot on Apollo St. above the spill, found high levels of benzene vapors, a known carcinogen.

"Apollo St. was not suitable because of the oil problem," said Eldorado owner Segundo Martin yesterday from his roasting plant in Masbeth, Queens.

A second study, carried out in 1998 for ExxonMobil, found the potential for gas vapors moving into the neighborhood.

Seggos said DEC and ExxonMobil officials testified before the City Council in 1997 that no dangerous vapors were escaping from the spill.

"If anyone got sick based on what was asserted in 1997, God help ExxonMobil," Seggos said.

An ExxonMobil spokesman said yesterday the company was unable to immediately respond to questions about the newly revealed reports, but insisted the oil giant was not "previously aware of vapor or other health-related issues in the residential community."

Spill neighbors blasted the DEC and ExxonMobil over the revelations.

"They're full of crap," said a disgusted Tom Stagg, a Greenpoint resident who has lost several relatives to cancer. "They're bull-crapping the neighborhood with propaganda."

DEC officials insisted the two reports had previously been made public and that officials have "indicated publicly many times that there is the potential for vapor issues."

As a result, the state "has required monitoring and sampling," a DEC spokeswoman said in a statement.

As recently as January, at a public meeting presided over by the DEC in Greenpoint, oil company representatives denied there were dangerous vapors escaping from industrial lots.

The DEC is set to hold a second public hearing tonight.

"This sounds like the first evidence of a coverup," said City Councilman David Yassky (D-Greenpoint). "I just hope the state has not been deliberately misleading the public about a health hazard."

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