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Greenpoint Faces New Worries Over Toxic Vapors

Dec 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The New York Times is reporting that toxic gases may be leaking into some homes in  Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Vapor intrusion is just the latest environmental hazard to plague Greenpoint, which has also been dealing with the effects of an oil spill for decades.

In 1978, the U.S. Coast Guard's observation of an oil slick on Newtown Creek in the northeast industrial section of Greenpoint led to the discovery of the Greenpoint oil spill.   It is estimated that between 17 million and 30 million gallons of oil had leached into the ground along Newton Creek.  The area along Newton Creek were the oil spilled had been home to oil refineries from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s and continued to be used for bulk petroleum storage until 1993. The largest portion of these operations were by ExxonMobil or its predecessors. Leaking tanks and pipelines, and an explosion in 1950 may have contributed to the spill.

Exxon began cleaning up the spill in 1979, a process that continued into 2007.  Although 9 million gallons of petroleum have been removed, more than 8 million gallons of oil and byproducts from petroleum are considered to remain underground while the clean up continues. The spill now covers about 55 acres.  At its peak, it covered 100 acres, making it three times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill.

In addition to refineries and petroleum storage facilities, Greenpoint was also once a hub for dry cleaning plants and other manufacturing facilities.  Those industries also produced toxic chemicals, which may now be threatening at least some Greenpoint homes.

According to the New York Times, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been testing homes throughout  the state to gauge whether vapor intrusions from contaminated soil and groundwater is a serious public health problem.  In Greenpoint, inspections have been conducted on 12 homes.  Air in two of the homes turned out to be contaminated with chemicals used to dry-clean fabrics and degrease metal parts, the Times said.  Eight others had chemicals in the foundations which could eventually contaminate air inside the houses.  

The state had hoped to test a total of 58 homes in Greenpoint, but as the Times reports, some residents have been resistant.  They fear that the discovery of yet another environmental problem will decimate their property values.  Many people targeted for inspection have refused to allow investigators into their homes.

Officials from the state assert such fears are unfounded.  When vapor intrusion is found, the state pays to fix the homes.  In most cases, the problem can be eliminated, and residents can even stay in their homes while the work is being done.



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