‘Super’ site in nabe – State designates area within Meeker Ave. plumes

After 18 months of investigations, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has added one industrial site in East Greenpoint to the state Superfund program, the first such designated site within the Meeker Avenue plumes.

On Dec. 30, the DEC announced that 315 Kingsland Ave., the location of the former Spic and Span Cleaners and Dyers Inc., would be added to the Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Program (State Superfund).

DEC officials have conducted a series of vapor intrusion tests at the site and the surrounding neighborhood since May 2007, after prior investigations revealed two plumes containing chlorinated solvents, tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trhichloroethene (TCE), had contaminated industrial properties north and south of Meeker Avenue,

After several rounds of investigations, the DEC concluded that the Kingsland Avenue site was a source of the chlorinated solvents that have been contaminating nearby soil and groundwater. Five other properties within East Greenpoint and the East Williamsburg Industrial Valley have been identified in the DEC’s Phase III report, released this past October, as potential originators of the solvents, since many of the dry cleaning and metalworking businesses that once operated on those sites used those chemical compounds in their work.

Several elected officials and community leaders have pressed the DEC, State Department of Health, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work together to provide funding for the investigation and removal of contaminants in Greenpoint. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has been urging the EPA to assume control over the Meeker Avenue Plume and Newtown Creek-area investigations, but the EPA recently declined to become further involved with the testing. An EPA administrator did say that investigations regarding Newtown Creek for the Superfund National Priorities List were ongoing and the agency would begin sampling at sites within Newtown Creek.

“The NYSDEC is taking appropriate actions to investigate and delineate the groundwater contamination and to respond to the migration of vapors into homes,” said Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg, in a letter to Congresswoman Velazquez dated Dec. 31, 2008. “Its actions are consistent with the approaches EPA would take if it were the investigating agency.”

Some residents in the neighborhoods near the plumes have expressed their anxiety that the media attention the contamination has received would lower property values and give cause for the state to condemn and seize their properties. State officials have categorically denied that properties would be condemned and said they would conduct additional outreach to homeowners to explain the facts of testing and mitigation and relieve their concerns.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who hosted a stakeholders meeting regarding the pollution in his office this week, believed that information regarding the investigation must be better clarified so that residents would not be fearful of the process.

“My hope would be that people would be willing to have tests performed so that they would be willing to measure the extent of the damage,” Lentol said. “I understand people’s reluctance to do that. As far as labeling something a federal Superfund, I’m not sure I like that idea. We don’t want it to look like Love Canal here. People may think we have an extensive problem.”

Katie Schmidt, Executive Director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, which will host a public forum to address the Meeker Avenue Plumes on Jan. 14, said the Superfund designation was a step forward but that more work must be done towards cleaning up the site.

“I do think that it is good to see that the DEC is doing what they can administratively regardless of limitations whether in their budget or the coordination of other government offices,” Schmidt said. “It addresses the long term mediation of the site and not the short term outreach to people living and working in the area and mitigation of the buildings affected.”

The Meeker Avenue Plume briefing will be Jan. 14 at The Green School (223 Graham Ave.) at 6 p.m. For more information, go to www.newtowncreekalliance.org.