It’s been just over a year since the Meeker Avenue Plume in Greenpoint was added to the federal Superfund list, and the community is preparing to form a Community Advisory Group that will help guide federal and state officials as they plan and execute the eventual cleanup effort.
Community Advisory Groups — or CAGS — are a “focal point for the exchange of information,” for people living in and around Superfund sites, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Their regular meetings give the community a chance to pass on their questions and concerns to the EPA; in turn, EPA officials can give regular updates on their progress.
A CAG should be a diverse representation of the community, the agency said, with residents, business owners, local environmental groups, and more. The first meeting of the Meeker Avenue CAG is planned for May 10, and anyone from Greenpoint and East Williamsburg is invited to check it out.
Liaising with a federal agency while they clean up your heavily contaminated neighborhood is no small task — so, what is the Meeker Avenue Plume, and what would you do as a CAG member?
What is the Meeker Avenue Plume?
While Greenpoint has changed a lot over the decades, its industrial history left quite a mark on the environment. The Meeker Avenue Plume is an area of about 50 blocks where the soil and groundwater are contaminated with hazardous Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds, man-made chemicals used in manufacturing, dry-cleaning, and more.
CVOCs are known to cause both short and long-term health issues including cancer, and they often evaporate out of the soil and into homes and businesses. Last year, the EPA officially added the Plume to the Superfund list “to protect human health and the environment.” Now that it’s on the list, federal resources and funding can be used to study the area and start addressing the contamination.
The cleanup process is still in early stages at the Meeker Avenue Plume. Last winter, the agency began testing for CVOCs in the air in residential buildings inside the Plume. In the coming months, they’ll test in other locations – like at the Cooper Park Houses – and will also start taking samples of groundwater.
All that testing will help determine the exact size of the Plume, and will hopefully identify the remaining sources of contamination. After that, the agency will start to formulate a plan to contain and remove those chemicals — but even that can take a long time. The Newtown Creek, which runs right past the Plume, was added to the Superfund list over a decade ago, and still, the physical cleanup has not started.
How does a CAG work? What do CAG members do?
Every CAG functions differently, depending on the people who make it up. They may have a specific leader or leaders, or they can be more decentralized. The Gowanus Canal CAG has a number of different committees focusing on different issues — water quality, land use, outreach — while the Newtown Creek CAG has just one, the Steering Committee.
The inaugural members of the Meeker Avenue Plume CAG will have a chance to help form the body’s rules and procedures to suit the needs of the neighborhood.
In general, though, the responsibilities of each CAG and member are the same. Members are expected to attend regular meetings and represent the views of their community at each one. They should be ready to present issues to the EPA, review new information, and spread that information to the community at large outside of meetings.
An effective CAG, one that can clearly represent the needs of the community, can help the EPA create a more thoughtful cleanup that addresses the longstanding concerns and issues in the community.
Members should also be ready to discuss issues in-depth, vote on resolutions, and engage in sometimes-contentious conversations. Luckily, the Meeker Avenue CAG will be working alongside a third-party facilitator to help move those conversations along and make complex information easier to understand.
How do I join the CAG?
The first Meeker Avenue Plume CAG meeting is scheduled for May 10 at 6pm, and will be held at the Cooper Park Community Center at 76 Kingsland Ave. in Greenpoint, and all are welcome.
Attending the meeting won’t lock you in as a member, said Heidi Vanderlee, one of the Greenpointers who helped set the meeting up — it’s just to see what it’s all about. The first few meetings will likely revolve around figuring out exactly what the CAG will do and how it will function before it gets down to Superfund business.
To receive updates on the CAG and meetings, email [email protected].