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Greenpoint Residents Face New Hazard

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Already dealing with the affects of a decades-old oil spill, residents in Greenpoint Brooklyn must now worry about toxic gases  leaking into their homes.

According to the New York Times, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been testing homes throughout  the state to gauge whether vapor intrusions from contaminated soil and groundwater is a serious public health problem. Greenpoint, once a hub for refineries, petroleum storage facilities, dry cleaning plants and other manufacturing facilities, is one of the neighborhoods officials are focusing on.

According to the New York Times, inspections have been conducted on 12 Greenpoint homes.  Air in two of the homes turned out to be contaminated with chemicals used to dry-clean fabrics and degrease metal parts, the Times said.  Eight others had chemicals in the foundations which could eventually contaminate air inside the houses.

The state had hoped to test a total of 58 homes in Greenpoint, but as the Times reports, some residents have been resistant.  They fear that the discovery of yet another environmental problem will decimate their property values.  Many people targeted for inspection have refused to allow investigators into their homes.

Officials from the state assert such fears are unfounded.  When vapor intrusion is found, the state pays to fix the homes.  In most cases, the problem can be eliminated, and residents can even stay in their homes while the work is being done.

It is easy to understand why this new environmental problem has sparked fear in Greenpoint, where residents have fresh memories of another hazard.  In 1978, it was discovered that between 17 million and 30 million gallons of oil had leached into the ground along Newton Creek.  The area along Newton Creek were the oil spilled had been home to oil refineries from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s and continued to be used for bulk petroleum storage until 1993. The largest portion of these operations were by ExxonMobil or its predecessors. Leaking tanks and pipelines, and an explosion in 1950 may have contributed to the spill.

Exxon began cleaning up the spill in 1979, a process that continued into 2007.  Although 9 million gallons of petroleum have been removed, more than 8 million gallons of oil and byproducts from petroleum are considered to remain underground while the clean up continues. The spill now covers about 55 acres.  At its peak, it covered 100 acres, making it three times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill.

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