10-year Meeker Avenue Plume investigation continues
By Mary Frost
At a community outreach in Greenpoint on Dec. 1, the state’s senior environmental engineer spoke to community members about the long, slow progress the Department of Environmental Conservation has made in investigating plumes of toxic chlorinated solvents beneath their homes and businesses.
The plumes are known collectively as the Meeker Avenue Plume, a lingering reminder of Greenpoint’s industrial past.
DEC studies show the area’s groundwater and soil have levels of the cancer-causing solvents thousands of times the state standard. Tests have confirmed that hazardous vapors from the plumes are seeping into residential properties in the area.
These plumes are separate from the toxins left in the soil from the Greenpoint Oil Spill, one of the largest oil spills ever documented in the U.S. The oil spill was, at 17 to 30 million gallons, at least 50 percent bigger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. No fumes have been detected inside residences from the spill, however.
DEC’s Senior Environmental Engineer David Harrington told a group clustered around one of many Greenpoint maps that the event was not called to discuss a particular site, but rather “to give people notice of all the work we’ve done over the last 10 years.”
He said the meeting was also intended to give people new to the area the chance to request soil testing if they missed earlier meetings in 2008 and 2009.
Budget affects speed of study
The wheels of government have been grinding slowly and painstakingly in pinpointing the sources of the plumes and offering homeowners and businesses remediation.
Harrington was asked about timelines and funding by representatives including Emily Mijatovic, the director of community affairs for Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, and Ben Solotaire, assistant to Councilmember Stephen Levin.
“Things don’t happen as quickly as we would like them to. And we also have to deal with the normal budget allocations in [different] years — how much money I’m going to get to do whatever I’m going to do,” he said. “Some years I get more money than others.”
Some residents have expressed concern about the safety of P.S. 110, located within the area of study.
Solotaire told the Greenpoint Gazette after the event that the city’s Department of Education told him that P.S. 110 “was tested several years ago, maybe 2012, by DOE. The results were reviewed by the DEC and found to be safe.”
Rodney Rivera, Region 2 special assistant, said that many homeowners contacted by DEC refused the offer of a free remediation device, called a sub-slab depressurization system.
“A substantial number of folks said ‘No thank you,’” Rivera said. “In that case we do the best we can with what we do get. We have no recourse.”
In one heavily residential section of Greenpoint, DEC reached out to roughly 300 home owners about testing.
“We got 85 acceptances,” Harrington said.
Of those 85 homes that were tested, 26 were found to need remediation. Harrington said that all 26 homeowners were offered the free devices, but only 16 accepted it.
“Again, the system is voluntary,” he said. “We offered a number of systems to homeowners, not everyone accepted it. The ones that did, we installed it, we did the maintenance work on it and it’s paid for by the department. The only thing the homeowner has to pay for is the electricity that run the unit. It’s about 8 bucks a month.”
Harrington described a conversation he had with man who rejected the remediation device.
“One homeowner said, ‘Is this going to kill me tomorrow?’”
“I said, ‘Tomorrow? No.’”
“He said ‘OK.’ He wanted to talk about the Yankees the rest of the time I was there.”
Finding the culprits
The plumes are the result of decades of dumping and irresponsible manufacturing practices by dry cleaning and metalworking businesses, DEC says. These include the former Spic and Span Cleaners & Dyers, Klink Cosmo Cleaners, Acme Steel’s metal works and brass foundry sites, Lombardy Street Soap and Lacquer Mfg. and Goodman Brothers Steel Drum Co.
“Based on the data, continuous efforts to tighten up the grid, and historical research, we started to zero in on locations where we found sources. This map over here — you can see in yellow — those are the Class 2 sites we’ve identified as being sources. So far we have six of them,” Harrington said.
He added, “You can see the other areas that are in purple; those are areas we had suspected are possibly contributing to the contamination that we found, but we haven’t identified them as being sources because either we can’t locate where it’s coming from on a particular parcel, or the data indicates that isn’t something that’s an ongoing source.”
The sources of the toxic plumes are in areas where there’s been industrial and commercial use for an extended period of time, he said. “For example, Goodman Brothers, they started in 1909. So it’s been a location that’s been active for a long time. They went out of business in 2004.”
Close to announcing some findings
Harrington was asked when some definitive results would be announced.
“When I’m done finding out who the bad guys are?” he said. “We’ve been at this for 10 years right now. We’ve got six sources, I anticipate we’re going to get an additional group of them, and I hope to have that information within the next year to 18 months.”
He added, “A lot will depend on whether I get additional funding to finish it this year.”
Harrington hopes to present, at a formal meeting in a year to 18 months, remedies for two sites. Other sites are awaiting funding or are under consent orders to be remediated by the responsible party.
Homeowners and businesses in the vicinity of the plumes are encouraged to contact DEC to have their property tested free of charge. To set up an appointment call the NYS Dept. of Health (DOH), 800-458-1158 x27860.