Petroleum Build up in Sewer Lines Caused Vapors City and State Reps Say

The petroleum vapors town hall on 6/12 in Greenpoint

The recent spike in petroleum odors in Greenpoint homes was the topic of discussion on Wednesday night at the second town hall this year hosted by the North Brooklyn Neighbors at the Polish and Slavic Civic Center (176 Java St.).


Representatives from the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene amd the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation provided updates on the pretorium vapors centered around Freeman, Huron, and Green Streets.

The DEP flushing sewer lines on McGuiness Blvd and Huron Street in May, 2019,

The DEC confirmed that petroleum product had recently built up in the “tight” sewer lines in the northern section of Greenpoint where multiple residents, including Freeman Street resident Mary Cinadr, have been relocated from due to vapors. The DEP has been flushing sewer lines in the area and said that petroleum vapors have reduced to safe levels.

A quick side note: if you detect petroleum vapors are present in your home then dial the DEC spill hotline at 1-800-457-7362 and call 311 (remember to write down the complaint number).

The vapor complaints that have been coming into 311 and 911 haven’t always made it to DEC in time for air sampling, as was the case with the preschool evacuating on Java St. on May 23rd, which DEC rep. Rodney Rivera said was a “chemical odor,” despite audience members claiming that a gas smell was detected prior to the school evacuation. 

The panel at the petroleum vapors town hall on 6/12

While the recent spike in reported vapors is startling, a similar spike in reported vapors occurred in 2016, according to the Brooklyn Eagle: “Similar spikes have occurred in the past, most notably in April to June 2016, when 311 recorded the highest number of odor complaints in Community Board 1 since 2010, the earliest date for which there is data.”

The culprit responsible for the petroleum product build up in the sewer lines may never be caught according to the panel last night as illegal dumpers can be difficult to catch and prosecute. The DEC also confirmed that other “historic” spills and potential sources are being investigated, but officials would not elaborate as speculation could cause panic.

During the Q+A portion of the town hall Mary Cinadr asked the representatives for more stringent testing with Summa air canisters, which the Brooklyn Eagle confirmed is the appropriate instrument:

The DEC plans to conduct further testing at Cinadr’s apartment, rapidly respond to any additional complaints and to monitor any potential elevated petroleum vapors with a type of gas detector called a Photoionization detector (PID) as the city continues to work on the sewer lines, according to the agency.

But Dr. Vicky Keramida, who leads an environmental consulting firm, said that the state’s testing plans are not thorough enough.

The types of instruments they are using, she said, “are not suitable or appropriate means of detecting harmful levels” of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. The appropriate instrument, according to Keramida, is a type of air tester called a Summa canister.

While the state agencies did perform an approximately 90-minute test in April in Cinadr’s apartment with Summa canisters, the tests revealed technical glitches, according to Nathan Walz of DOH. No further Summa canister tests were performed.

Cinadr also feels that state agencies have been dismissive of her concerns as detail in the Brooklyn Eagle:

“One of the hardest things to deal with has been the resistance by DOH and DEC,” she said. “From the beginning I’ve just been trying to protect my health. When I sensed it wasn’t protected, I kept reaching out and they tried to make me feel bad for being vocal.”

“I cannot continue with the constant emails,” Walz of DOH wrote in an email reviewed by the Eagle. “I have many other projects I need to spend time on. I have been working so many extra hours pretty much daily and weekends to keep up with this site and others that I do not get paid or compensation for.”

For attendees of the first petroleum vapors town hall in May, very little new information was divulged at last night’s meeting, which was covered by NY1 and News 12 Brookyln.

The main takeaway from last night is that some residents are not satisfied with the scope and method of vapor testing by DEC, who said they will continue to respond to all vapor reports, while the DEP said that sewer petroleum vapors have returned to safe levels and they will also continue to monitor the situation.

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