Investigators from both the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and private firms are currently conducting studies throughout the area and bringing information about the contamination to the community.
The discovery of the new chemical plume came during the continued study of the Greenpoint Oil plume, which has been an environmental headache for the neighborhood for decades.
The second plume, discovered in and around Meeker Avenue underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in east Greenpoint, is believed to have been the result of improper disposal practices of dry cleaning and manufacturing companies that no longer exist in the area.
The contamination includes the seepage of tetrachloroethene (PCE), a solvent used in dry cleaning, and trichloroethylene(TCE), a chemical used to clean metal. The chemicals may have seeped into the groundwater and surrounding soil, which can result in toxic chemical fumes rising up from the ground and into homes and other buildings in the neighborhood.
The study area is generally bounded by Kinglsand Avenue and Monitor Street on the west, Norman Avenue and Bridgewater on the north, Newtown Creek on the east, and Lombardy Street on the south, and includes a number of blocks south to Whithers Street between Porter and Morgan avenues.
Preliminary investigations have indicated that there are two separate plumes within the study area, one north of Meeker Avenue encompassing blocks of Morgan, Sutton, Kingsland and Monitor, and another larger plume south of Meeker Avenue.
The DEC and New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) have been testing the soil and water in east Greenpoint since the spring of 2007, and have since definitively identified four distinct contamination sites, with several others currently being studied.
The investigation has so far included the testing of 18 homes and more than 200 soil and groundwater points. The tests are continuing throughout the sample area, as more and more homeowners are urged to allow the DEC and NYSDOH to conduct tests on their property.
Agencies have been conducting a number of public outreach programs to facilitate an easier, quicker, and more efficient testing process and spread information about the possible health risks and their ability to remediate or mitigate the hazardous chemicals.
The state agencies held an open forum on November 13 to discuss the contamination and study at St. Cecilia’s, a meeting that they described as the first of many.“The investigation has moved along very quickly,” said a representative of DEC. “We wanted to let people know what’s going on and get people talking to other people about the study. There are a lot more meetings that need to be held.”
The DEC and NYSDOH are scheduling a number of public meetings for the first few weeks of January.
Meanwhile, local activists and private investigators held their own information session in the form of a tour. The Newtown Creek Alliance invited brownfield experts Lenny Siegel and Peter Strauss to lead a tour of the Meeker Avenue plume areas.
The tour began at Norman and Kingsland avenues at the former location of Spic and Span Dry Cleaners, and traced the outline of the plumes, stopping at the sites at which the contamination is thought to have originated.
“New York City has chemical plumes all over, and we don’t know about it,” said Siegel. “The only reason they even found this one is because they were looking for petroleum.”
While on the tour, Strauss and Siegel detailed the ways the city, state, and federal governments could better regulate ground and water contamination, and discussed the responsibility of developers in the mitigation and remediation of land.
They indicated that the best solution for areas like Greenpoint might be blanket mitigation, which would relieve soil pressure and keep ground vapors from rising into homes.
“Every new building should be built with mitigation,” said Siegel.