Is Greenpoint Safe? 10 Things To Do

Do you find it ironic that Greenpoint features the environmentally friendly Rooftop Farms, the new McGolrick Park Farmers Market, a Clean Green Dry Cleaners on Nassau Ave, among many other “green” initiatives? Are you confused that the Earth Day Celebration in McCarren Park is sponsored by Exxon Mobil?

We live on top of an oil spill nearly as big as the Exxon Valdez spill, cause by Exxon Mobil that has rendered the Newtown Creek and the soil underneath our homes extremely toxic. Almost half of the city’s trash is stored and processed in North Brooklyn. Part of Greenpoint, near McGolrick Park, sits directly on top of the Meeker Avenue Plumes which releases the vapors of carcinogenic dry cleaning chemicals into the homes of residents. That all sucks!

It seems contradictory to be living in a very toxic place and at the same time celebrate so many eco-friendly things. It’s like eating organic kale in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other hand.

So what is the point?

Photo: Bill Rhodes

The point is, we live here and we love it!  And we can’t just give up on Greenpoint. Generations ahead of us will call this place home and it’s important we make sure it is cleaner and healthier for them and safe for us in the meantime.

Instead of being cynical about all of these exciting “green” developments in the community, embrace them and look at them as steps towards cleaning up Greenpoint.

A very important panel discussion called Is Greenpoint Safe? was held at Anella recently. Organizers created this important document to help you become more informed and understand how you can get involved, get educated and get Greenpoint on the right track.

A few important things to note: The Newtown Creek is a Superfund Site, if you live above or near the Meeker Ave plumes it’s important to get your home tested right away for harmful fumes, oil spills and bad odors are cause for action, houseplants can help improve air quality in your home, eating food from your garden may be contaminated with lead or other toxic chemical so test the soil, and composting, limiting the use of harmful cleaners in your home and adopting a tree are all ways you can directly act towards making Greenpoint a cleaner and healthier place.

Please discuss and share this information with friends and neighbors.

10 Things We Can Do To Cleanup Greenpoint

1. Get involved in local community-environmental organizations!
Help create a safer and healthier Greenpoint by getting involved in local organizations fighting for the health and well being of our neighborhood.  There are regular meetings you can attend, committees and e-mail lists to join, etc.
Organizations include:
1. Newtown Creek Alliance
2. O.U.T.R.A.G.E.
3. NAG – Neighbors Allied for Good Growth
4. Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee
5. Newtown Creek Superfund Community Advisory Group

2. Get educated about Newtown Creek contamination & involved in the clean-up process:
Learn about the Superfund designation of Newtown Creek and get involved in the clean-up process with the Community Advisory Group (CAG). It’s up to people living in the surrounding community to ensure Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accomplishes a thorough and safe clean-up.  The EPA is required by law to listen to us at every stage of the process.  The EPA will hold numerous public meetings and comment periods in the years to come.

3. Live Above the Meeker Plumes?  Get Your Home Tested

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has identified several plumes of toxic chlorinated solvents (TCE & PCE) in the soils and groundwater beneath certain parts of Greenpoint (east of McGolrick Park and north of Meeker) and East Williamsburg (south of Meeker). These plumes are collectively referred to by DEC as the “Meeker Ave. Plumes” and consist of a number of NYS Superfund sites. The plumes are the result of decades of dumping and irresponsible manufacturing practices by historic dry cleaning and metalworking businesses. In some cases, toxic chemicals are seeping into people’s homes from the legacy contamination, via a process known as “vapor intrusion.”

Learn more about the Meecker Ave Plumes.
If you live above the plumes, get your home tested for free by contacting Dawn Hettrick at the New York State Department of Health, (800) 458-1158 x27860.
If a vapor intrusion problem is identified, DEC/DOH will install a mitigation system at no cost to the property owner. These mitigation systems, known as sub-slab depressurization systems, are designed to withdraw air from beneath your home’s foundation.  This prevents toxic soil vapors from entering homes.  They’re widely used to prevent radon gas from entering structures in areas where radon gas is naturally occurring. If offered, the system will be installed free of charge.

4. Call 311 to make an odor complaint
Community organizations rely on community participation to advocate effectively. Please call 311 when you smell odors related to the sewage treatment facility. That call is directed to the Department of Environmental Protection for an odor report complaint number. Once the report is made, the committee has the ability to pressure DEP to take steps to prevent odors. Email the odor complaint number to nc.mc (at) verizon.net to speed up the process.

5. Call the DEC Oil Spill Hotline at 800-457-7362 to report oil in public waterways
If you notice large plumes of oil or oil sheens in public waterways such as the Newtown Creek, the Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC) needs to know about it right away.  DEC reps come to the sight of large oil slicks in less than 20 minutes enabling them to locate the source of the spill. For more info on the 1950 Exxon-Mobil oil spill, click here.

6. Be aware of potential air quality exposures in the home
Do you live near one of the known plumes or spills? Do you live on a truck route? If so, take action to reduce impacts on your living space. Circulate air from windows off the street. You might not want to use basement spaces for sleeping or living areas over known plumes. If you suspect air quality in the home is impacting your health, seek indoor air quality sampling and analysis.  Houseplants can help improve indoor air quality dramatically.

7. Be aware of potential exposures in the soil
Do you have a yard, garden or other space with open soil? A lot of people are getting into urban agriculture these days, which is great. However, it is important to use best practices when gardening in Greenpoint, because of historic pollution in the soil. The Greenpoint Incinerator operated from 1958 until 1994, depositing dioxin and lead throughout the area, and just because the stacks are gone, doesn’t mean the contamination has gone. Get your soil tested! If you are growing edible plants, use clean soil in a container. If you have a fruit tree, have plant tissues tested before consuming it, especially with kids or pregnant women.

8. Reduce waste and heal the soil
Composting is especially important in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, because we currently handle 40% of the city’s waste through transfer stations in our community. Composting is an important alternative to garbage export. Currently, our waste is trucked around the city and exported for landfill or incineration in New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and so on. The impacts of dealing with garbage this way are felt in communities who live all along these truck routes, transfer stations and disposal sites. Public money is thrown away on polluting the air and wearing down the roads to export thousands of tons of compostable material each day in New York City. Composting is a direct action you can take to take waste off of trucks and create a valuable product that heals city soil. As a soil amendment, compost increases nutrition and moisture available to plants and animals living in the soil. Composting reduces the use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers, helps conserve water, filters pollutants from water, improves soil structure, increases water-holding capacity, and improves disease resistance in plants. There are lots of ways to get composting!

Check out:
North Brooklyn Compost Project
GrowNYC
NYC Waste Less
LES Ecology Center 

9. Reduce your use of hazardous materials in the home
Take a look at your cleaning supplies and household products and consider low-VOC and low hazard alternatives. There is a reason that these common materials have their own section on the FEMA website! If you are willing to get creative and mix up your own non-toxic cleaning supplies, you can avoid relying on overpriced “green” products, and you can end up actually saving money.

10. Protect a tree
Our neighborhood trees help protect us from numerous pollutants, but it costs money, time, and advocacy to plant and protect them. So we need community members to become educated about trees and help protect them. If you see signage attached to a tree with anything other than elastic, remove it. You can also adopt a tree and help water it. To learn about ways you can help care for our community trees call 311 for citywide information or email bargeparkpals (at) msn.com for local information. Adopt a Tree here.

About Jen G

After living in NYC my entire life, I found the strongest sense of community in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Running this blog is truly an honor and the best part is meeting its readers in real life. Everyday I am energized by smiles and inspiring conversations with fellow Greenpointers who tirelessly do and create incredible things that are good for our community and share the same love I have for life here. If you see me walking with my little dog "D" - please say hi!

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