Now that the smoke has cleared from the attempted Halloween dance party incident at the NuHart Superfund site, we’re back to the perennial and even messier topic of the proposed cleanup plan.

The Nov. 2 meeting held in Greenpoint with Dr. Peter deFur, the community’s technical consultant, was an opportunity for local residents to ask questions about the toxic contamination in the soil and groundwater.

DeFur assured residents: “Your presence and your voice will make a difference…I have seen examples of where the community voice is an important determinate and changes the outcome.”

The moment of truth involved an array of toxins that have been detected at low levels at the NuHart test wells, including benzene, but deFur posited that they are not a major concern for most Greenpointers.

Phthalates and TCE are the two toxins present in the large plumes, which are described as bodies of toxic substance that extend a certain depth and width underground.

The phthalate plume is approximately 40,000 – 60,000 gallons: Ecosystems Strategies, Inc.

 

The TCE plume from an oil spill within the factory: Ecosystems Strategies, Inc.

Greenpoint has a significant number of Superfund and brownfield sites that are required by city and state laws to undergo an approved remediation plan prior to development.

While our community is an outlier in the number of former-industrial contaminated sites, similar areas are grappling with the same toxic plumes. The Guardian and the Center For Investigative Reporting profiled the Federal Superfund cleanup process in California:

The city of Mountain View, California, for example, is home to 75,000 people. They live above and around 13 Superfund sites. Here, people are understandably concerned about exposure risks and want to see the sites cleaned, regardless of the method [of cleanup].

Their reporting found that the pump and dump method of cleaning TCE-contaminated groundwater often made little difference in terms of TCE toxicity, as test wells indicated.

Camp Lejeune, a large military base in North Carolina, is also widely contaminated with TCE, which was found to be present in the drinking water onsite and linked to an array of cancers and birth defects.

Greenpoint’s main advantage over Camp Lejeune is that our water is supplied from Upstate New York and not from local groundwater, which is also more common in California.

The potential risk to Greenpoint residents involves breathing vapors that rise up from the soil. However, as Dr. deFur explained, low-level exposure is a negligible concern, and most of us experience this degree of phthalate exposure on account of the air we breathe and everyday products we consume. The people who might need to worry are those living directly on top of the TCE plume, as the accumulated amount of exposure time is significant enough to impact human health.

For those of you unfamiliar with the substance, TCE was finally declared to be a known carcinogen in 2011 by the Environmental Protection Agency after decades of research.

Many questions at the Nov. 2 meeting were raised regarding the nature and extent of TCE contamination, and how pile driving affects the movement of the toxin: “I would expect to see the movement of TCE first,” said deFur in comparison to the thicker phthalate plume.

Another resident asked for details regarding Dupont Street Developers’ cleanup plan. Yi Han, who represents one of the main investors in the development, Bo Jin Zhu, hinted that there’s friction among the current owners. According to the Real Deal, Joseph Brunner, the other owner of the development, is facing a lawsuit for not repaying a loan on the property 

Yi said that if it were up to her team, they would seek to clean up the toxins. “If we become the control group at the site, we would like to have it cleaned up, but at this point I can’t make any promises,” she said.

The TCE is “the chemical that is the most harmful for the neighborhood,” said Yi.

A resident asked Michael Roux, the environmental consultant to the developers, if TCE air samples can be collected.

Roux said that he will ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to provide a worst-case scenario time of day and month to test for TCE as a metric.

The remedial investigation is what’s being reviewed now, and following its approval, the method to clean up the site will be presented (this document is referred to as the feasibility study). What’s delaying the process, at the moment, is the ongoing survey of the underground utilities, said deFur.

Jane O’Connell, the DEC representative at the meeting, said the Greenpoint community will have an opportunity, known as a comment period, to offer opinions to the DEC after the feasibility study is released in early 2016.

A minimum of 30 days is required by law for the comment period, and O’Connell said she would like to see the comment period extended to 60 days, which is the maximum time allowed.

What questions do you still have regarding the NuHart cleanup?  

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  1. So basically we have two firms in ownership of the proposed development who aren’t on the same page for remediation efforts nor their commitment to the community, I wonder which of the two will win? I’m fairly certain that Greenpoint will lose either way.

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