EPA Has Tested Hundreds of Homes at Meeker Avenue Plume, But Needs More People to Let Them In


By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

Door-to-door canvassing, postcards, and tabling are some of the ways the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to encourage people to get their homes tested in the Meeker Avenue Plum Superfund Site. 

While over 200 properties have been tested for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the soil and air, the EPA needs people to get their homes tested for data collection and to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals, according to a spokesperson from the EPA. 

The spokesperson said that the EPA has had trouble getting into homes to test for VOCs and that one of the reasons is that homeowners and landlords fear that the property value may decline. However, the EPA also said that no remediation not only jeopardizes human health but could hurt the value of the home more in the long run. 

After testing, if there are no VOCs in the air or ground, then the EPA will send an official letter saying so. If there are VOCs and remediation is needed, then the EPA will do it. The EPA has said he uses those facts to convince people to get their homes tested. 

About Volatile Organic Compounds

Examples of volatile organic compounds are trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), which are the prime contaminants in the Meeker Avenue site. VOCs tend to exist in a liquid or solid form but vaporize into the air easily. Gasoline, dry-cleaning agents, and paint thinners are substances that can contain such compounds. 

The superfund site has previously been an area for many industries that use VOCs for dry-cleaning, drum reconditioning, and metal fabrication to name a few. The compounds can pollute the air inside of the home in the basement or first floor.  

VOCs have contaminated the soil and groundwater in the plume area, but residents do not need to be concerned that drinking water is contaminated. New York City receives water from an upstate reservoir and the pipes do not reach the depth of groundwater. 

The EPA will be testing and remediating homes for at least the next five years, according to a press release. The plume cleanup was previously managed by New York State, but escalated to the National Priorities List, and was put under EPA management, in March of 2022. The EPA is investigating the extent of contamination in the soil and groundwater. 

An illustration of how volatile organic compounds can contaminate homes without remediation. Credit: EPA
Illustration of sub-slab depressurization, one form of remediation. Credit: EPA

About Testing and Remediation 

The testing process takes three days. A staff member from the EPA will first install a sub-slab gas port into the floor of the lowest level of a building. The quarter-sized port is cemented and removed after sampling. The next day, sampling canisters are plugged into the ports and in the lowest level and outside the home to collect air samples over 24 hours. Finally, the EPA will collect everything and notify property owners and tenants of the results when available. 

If a home requires remediation, the most common method is sub-slab-depressurization. This method is essentially a tube and fan that vents compounds to the outside without going through the home. A tube starts underground and goes through the basement, then up the outside of the house to the roofline. The EPA spokesperson mentioned that some homes have been remediated privately without the EPA’s assistance. The state has installed mitigation systems to some homes and sealed the floors of two homes to keep VOCs from getting into the building. 

The EPA is planning to add more wells for additional monitoring of groundwater after predictive computer models identified areas that need more data. New monitoring wells will be scattered throughout the superfund site in the summer. The EPA will continue indoor air quality testing this upcoming winter. 

The EPA is also receiving public comments regarding the cleanup process of the superfund site. The comment period was extended until June 25. Written comments can be submitted to Rupika Ketu, Remedial Project Manager at ketu.rupika@epa.gov


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