'F*CK You' Bear in Greenpoint, Brooklyn by Shawn Hoke is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Apr 7, 2022
Step aside, Gowanus: Greenpoint is now home to 2 EPA Superfund contaminated sites
A 50-block, very residential area is sitting on an oil and chemical plume toxic enough to warrant a federal emergency response
Greenpoint is one of Brooklyn’s most expensive neighborhoods, thanks in part to its vibrant arts and dining scene, and its proximity to waterfronts and hyper-gentrified Williamsburg.
It now also has the distinction of being the only neighborhood in the entire city that is home to not one but two EPA-designated Superfund sites—areas that are so heavily polluted that the federal government deems it worthy of an emergency cleanup response.
On March 18, the EPA added the Meeker Avenue Plume, a nearly 50-block area east of the tranquil McGolrick Park, north of the Brooklyn Steel music venue, bisected by part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and bordered on the east by the Newtown Creek tributary—another Superfund site—to its National Priorities List. The site, once a mostly industrial zone now home to hundreds of residential apartments, is sitting on a plume, or underground well, of a variety of toxic chlorinated volatile organic chemicals, such as tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, cis-1,2-dichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride—which are used to make the likes of dry cleaning fluid and degreasers.
And the carcinogenic CVOCs, as they’re called, are seeping in vapor form into the buildings on top of the plume.
“The contaminant plume underlies a multitude of residences and workplaces. Hundreds of residents and workers are exposed to the indoor air contamination that results from vapor intrusion into the structures,” the EPA wrote in a notice outlining the Superfund designation.
@EPA is proposing to add the Meeker Avenue Plume in Brooklyn, #NewYork to the #Superfund National Priorities List to cleanup groundwater contamination and address vapor intrusion. Learn more: https://t.co/WjuL56GKZD https://t.co/l8RrvQDCMl pic.twitter.com/qidq7SO53v
— US EPA – NJ,NY,PR,VI (@EPAregion2) September 14, 2021
New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been tracking the area since 2007 and has identified some of the culprits behind the contamination: dry cleaners, a brass foundry and a steel drum company, among others, who illegally dumped chemicals into the area.
The plume is also directly adjacent to Newtown Creek, which separates northern Brooklyn from Queens and has been a designated Superfund site since 2010, thanks to decades of oil leakage from former refineries—collectively referred to as the Greenpoint oil spill, ongoing since the late 1970s. The two Superfund sites could be contributing to each other.
Unlike the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s other Superfund site, which is currently being dredged of its thick pollutants, the Meeker plume has contaminated soil and groundwater in the foundation of buildings. Meaning it will be much trickier to cleanse.
“You can clean up most of it; you can’t clean up all of it,” a geologist told Curbed.
The simpler Gowanus dredging is taking at least a decade to complete, and the EPA’s initial investigation of the Meeker plume isn’t underway yet. So don’t hold your breath—even though you probably should—for a quick completion of a Meeker cleanup.
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