UPDATE: Superfund Nuhart Plastics. Seriously, you REALLY need to read this!

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Since last Thursday’s meeting, many of you have written me personally expressing concerns about Nuhart’s status and what it means for the hood when a Superfund cleans up its act and turns into an “affordable luxury condo building”.  Sadly, what is happening at Nuhart is not an April Fool’s joke.

Well, I have good and bad news to report about our darling little Superfund.  I suggest we bust out our hazmat suits and get suited up. I’m going to take us into the trenches and talk about toxic plumes.

Yes, you read that correctly. There are TWO plumes at Nuhart, not one.

Got your suit zipped and your mask on tight? Alright Greenpointers, let’s get dirty and talk toxins.

We all know that Nuhart Plastics used to make, well…plastics, specifically vinyl and plastic bags. Speak to an old-timer they’ll tell you whimsical stories of how it snowed in summer when Nuhart would open up the chimneys and shoot out a bunch of white plastic soot. It was a big old block party back then–kids and cars would come out to play and coat themselves in the stuff.

Thank god those days are long gone, but the chemicals used to make vinyl and the clean equipment are still lingering. An estimated 10 to 15 storage tanks are still on the premises, ranging in size from 1,000 -10,000 gallon drums. We were told these leaky tanks were cleaned, filled with sand, and will eventually be removed from the premises.

And the plumes?

Currently there are two different plumes happening at Nuhart —one that is moving and another that is sitting pretty for the time being.

Phthalate plume

Let’s start with the biggest plume first—phthalate aka that icky gooey liquid plasticizer plume. Phthalates are dangerous chemicals.  They are recognized endocrine disruptors and are linked to a whole bunch of ugly things. Local activist and environmental justice bad-ass Mike Schade and I talked at length about phthalates and Nuhart a few months ago for those who want a refresher on the subject.

The most recent map dated from 2013 (disturbingly old, I know) shows the phthalate plume extending from Clay and Franklin Streets to the southeast/west corner of Dupont street.

Nuhart Plume Map 2013

Jane O’Connell, the DEC representative overseeing Nuhart’s clean-up, said “DEC has been working close with the developer to complete its initial investigation to determine the extent and remediation measures needed to clean up the plume.”  Make no mistake, this plume is big and deep—in some spots its swimming pool deep.

Good news: This plume is not moving for now. Thanks to viscosity of the plasticizer (think green ectoplasma) this material doesn’t move around much.  And we know it’s not moving right now because 4 new testing wells were added—2  buffering Greenpoint Landing’s new school site and 2 inside the adjacent kids playground. I’m happy to report all 4 wells tested clean. Let’s all let out a brief sigh of relief–but do not breath too close to Nuhart, as residents still report smelling plastic.

Some residents asked about the effect of pile driving at Greenpoint Landing’s property and the plume’s migration. While no one would give a concrete answer on a migration rate, FPM group—the consultants hired by the developer to oversee the investigation—told officials the plume was static. The DEC didn’t seem so onboard with that assessment.

TCE Plume

Here is where things get hairy. TCE is a solvent that is used in dry cleaning and other practical applications such as cleaning manufacturing equipment.  TCE is a vapor-based chemical and counts immune diseases, face numbness, liver & kidney cancer on its list of many health risks. TCE spreads via vapor intrusion. Gasses seep through the ground and enter homes through the basement.  People living in the immediate vicinity and residing in the basement or first floor would be the most affected by a TCE plume.

Bad news: The TCE plume is moving.

 

Nuhart TCE Plume

Look at the map. See the dotted puke green colored line?  That line represents the direction in which the DEC believes the plume is spreading.  It is moving offsite from Nuhart to the top portion of Clay St and the corner edge of Commercial St.  The 2 wells located across the way at 21 Commercial Street, home to Greenpoint Landing’s first affordable housing property, are clean…for the time being.  But in order to gain more information on the extent of the TCE plume’s migration, DEC needs to access soil samples from the private property on the corner which is currently empty.

Funny thing about toxic plumes and private property: A property owner is NOT LEGALLY obligated to give the DEC permission to take soil samples. If a property owner denies the DEC access, a tenant can always request air samples from inside their apartment.

What does this spreading TCE plume mean for us?

For right now nothing until the developer knocks the building down and starts excavating. At the moment the TCE plume has not spread in the direction of any residences. On the map you will see the only place the DEC needs to test is an empty lot at the corner tip of the Clay/Commercial Street triangle.

Note: If you live near the end of Clay/Commercial Street and are concerned about vapor intrusion speak with Jane O’Connell at the DEC (718) 482-4973. She is overseeing Nuhart’s remediation efforts and can help with air sampling questions. 

Still got your masks on? Good, because unfortunately I’m not done talking toxins yet…

So what’s the deal with our health and safety? 

Isn’t that the million dollar question. At the meeting, anxious neighbors wanted to know where was the Department of Health and what was their take on all this plume business?

Not one single representative from the DOH was there to answer the question, but Ms. O’Connell gave us this: “The State Department of Health is very involved. There is an active rep, but they’re in Albany. Maybe the city DOH can give some guidance.”

Say what? Our “active health rep” is in Albany?! And the city DOH rep is a no show? This meeting was like sitting through a horror movie where the panicked person runs upstairs from their killer instead of racing out the front door. I wanted to scream out, “What the hell are you doing Department of Health? And WHERE ARE YOU–on fucking vacation?!”

So much for feeling safe Greenpoint. As a resident personally effected by what happens at Nuhart, I’m not comforted. Yes, there seems to be a lot of eyes on this property. But we all know watchful government eyes doesn’t necessarily guarantee safety.

So what’s up next for Nuhart?

Once the site is fully examined, a feasibility report will be issued by the DEC and a remediation work plan will be drawn up. Afterwards, we will have a 30-60 day window to scream, complain, and offer up suggestions on how best to approach a comprehensive clean-up.

This comment period is MAJOR because it is our ONLY time to give our input. We all know our definition of “clean” might be verrry different from the developer’s idea.

And that happy ending you promised?

 Yes, there is a small silver lining in all of this brown toxic mess. Mike Schade along with neighborhood group NAG secured Greenpoint a $50,000 technical assistant grant for the Nuhart clean-up. The 50k will allow the community to hire our own independent environmental consultant who will break down all those complicated environmental test results and give us the real deal about what is lurking beneath our feet. With his/her expertise, the community will know what to fight for once there is an official public comment period.

If anyone knows a good environmental scientist/engineer up to the task, let NAG know. They are currently seeking applicants.

Greenpointers is actively following what happens at the Nuhart site and plans are in the works to do another Q& A with Mike Schade in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more updates.

About Kim M

Kim is a native New Yorker, local activist and writer. When she's not writing books or playing Erin Brockovich with her Save Greenpoint peeps, you will see her whipping around Greenpoint on her bike, chatting it up with folks, and sharing stories about what it is about her hometown that makes life worth living. Follow her on twitter @kimasson or www.kimmassonwrites.com

8 Comments

  1. Sherry says:

    I feel bad it took so long for me to read this post. I’m pleasantly surprised it’s well written and informative. It’s too bad people who have enough money to pay for huge pieces of land — and to grease politicians’ hands — don’t have enough cash to clean it up. Don’t feel guilty with the schadenfreude once health problems arise twenty years from now.

    Reply
    • Kim M says:

      Thanks for reading everyone! The more eyeballs on Nuhart the better. And Sherry, as for being pleasantly surprised the post was well written and informative–I like to think all my posts written are that way!

      Reply
      • Sherry says:

        I didn’t mean it as an insult: You stressed the right points, got the science right (thanks for the links), and made it accessible to anyone without a degree in plastics. I just finished working on a book that explains how man-mande materials mess up the environment; now I know how they mess up the human body.

        Besides, it’s hard to tell whether I’m clicking on a “dick punch” or not.

        Reply
        • Kim M says:

          Not a problem, Sherry. This issue is complicated and sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around it all. I’m just trying to get all the facts right myself! Glad you read it and got some info out of it. That’s all I could ask for.

          As for dick punches, I leave that to the fellas and their body parts–unless they’ve had one too many Manhattans;P

          Reply
  2. SM says:

    THANK YOU KIM!!!!!

    Reply
  3. GM says:

    Hi Neighbors,

    I tried to call the number for the woman at the DEC and it is a non working number now- I found this online, and think it is the more updated one….

    DEC Region 2
    (Counties: Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond)
    Jane O’Connell / Vadim Brevdo
    (718) 482-4599 / 4928

    THANK YOU for this blog post and all your research Kim. It is really appreciated.

    Reply
  4. Christy says:

    Bottom line, will these buildings going up do anything to make the toxic mess any worse? Are the toxins from the Phthalate plume currently hurting the air quality? Is there a chance it will actually be addressed instead of sitting there doing nothing with the new development? Will disturbing the soil release toxins into the air or make the plum move at a faster rate? These are serious questions, not at all rhetorical. If anyone knows that answers, I’d love to know.

    As someone who has looked in the ‘point for about a decade now, I’m both concerned about these new buildings ruining Greenpoint and hopeful that they might help make the neighborhood a nicer more upscale place.

    Reply
    • Kim M says:

      Hi Christy,

      Let me see if I can answer your questions:

      Will these buildings going up do anything to make the toxic mess any worse?
      –Possibly, if you mean by buildings Greenpoint Landing. Any kind of pile driving can certainly make things move.

      Are the toxins from the Phthalate plume currently hurting the air quality?
      –At this point, I don’t think so. Officially, the DEC says no

      Is there a chance it will actually be addressed instead of sitting there doing nothing with the new development?
      –It is being addressed right now through a thorough investigation of the site, which has been going on for several months now.

      Will disturbing the soil release toxins into the air or make the plum move at a faster rate?
      –Yes, if the soil is churned up it can release toxins into the air, especially if they are vapor-based like the TCE plume. The Phalate plume I’m not sure, although I’d bet breathing that stuff in is probably not a good idea. The public comment period is crucial b/c we get to tell the DEC et al how we want the site cleaned. A remediation work plan is drawn up, we get to look at it, make comments. I’ll be making an announcement whenever the comment period begins.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply

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