newtowncreek.jpgNew York magazine has a great examination of the Greenpoint pollution problem lurking beneath the neighborhood's surface, and floating along the surface of Newtown Creek. It describes a ten million gallon reservoir of industrial pollution that includes, fuel oil, naptha, gasoline, parrafin wax and likely many more materials that were used along the industrial area of the waterway that separates Brooklyn and Queens.

The contamination of the area is hardly breaking news. Brooklyn drew its drinking water from the ground until 1949, when it had to switch to water piped from upstate when it was determined that groundwater was essentially undrinkable. In 1950, a below-ground explosion on Huron St. blew more than two dozen manhole covers three stories into the air and an investigation revealed that it was because gasoline was seeping into Brooklyn's sewer system.

Former state comptroller Alan Hevesi urged the Dept. of Environmental Protection last year not to negotiate any agreement with ExxonMobil before the full extent of the contamination was known, but the New York magazine feature points out that the pollution underneath Greenpoint dates back to the 1870s, when 50 refineries lined Newtown Creek. During the 1890s, a volunteer group named the 15th Ward Smelling Committee would travel the waterway sniffing to detect egregious polluters. In 1919, a Standard Oil refinery was razed in a fire and 110 million gallons of oil either burned or were absorbed into the ground. Current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo decided to sue ExxonMobil and a number of other oil companies this February.

The Greenpoint blob is confined by a layer of clay that exists a few feet down, but that has forced the pollution, which varies from pockets of a few centimeters to vats 25 feet deep, laterally and contaminated 55 acres of real estate that are either potentially prime, or potentially poisoned hazardous waste fields. An environmental consultant hired by a developer to investigate the Roebling Oil Field in Williamsburg said that the source of the oil bubbling to the surface could be a source from the north or northeast, which would be Greenpoint. Videos of the Roebling fiasco available here and here.

Tort lawyers are lining up for their cut of the financial legacy of Brooklyn industry. Caught in the middle are Brooklyn residents, who live above soil that could possibly be seeping benzene at levels dozens of times the level deemed safe. It's an intersection of inhabitants, historians, real estate developers, lawyers, politicians, corporations, and environmentalists. It's a fascinating New York story.

(Marlyn Warehouse / Newtown Creek, by addROC at flickr)