Putting the GREEN back into the 'Point

The Greenpoint Oil Spill, the largest oil spill in American history, compromising anywhere from 17 to 30 million gallons of oil (which accounts for a spill that is twice to three times the amount of the Valdez spill), is still bubbling under the surface of northern Brooklyn and southern Queens. The spill, caused by an explosion in 1950, was only noticed in 1978 by the Coast Guard.

This case of complete corporate negligence, headed by ExxonMobil, has gone all but unchecked since the spill first happened. Considering that the spill occurred well over 50 years ago within a densely populated urban area and that it’s been 30 years since its discovery, there has been little to no cleanup of the soil or Newtown Creek, the body of water separating Brooklyn from Queen. Nor have there been any large-scale city, state or oil company-funded scientific studies conducted about both the environmental and health consequences of such a spill on a portion of land that is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the city. (As recently as 2001, before the condo boom, the neighborhood was home to over 160,000 people.)

An independent study group headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. found that toxic fumes are still being emitted by Greenpoint's soil. Traces of benzene, arsenic, and lead were also found in the ground. Some of the soil is such a toxic sponge that it can literally be set on fire.

This clearly finessed wikipedia article about the spill tries to downplay the negative health and environmental impacts and emphasizes the “timing” of slowly pending lawsuits filed against Exxon and others by the same independent study group and local residents.

But this “timing” issue begs the question: How does a company misplace at least 17 million gallons of oil in New York City, not report it to anyone, and then get away with not cleaning it up completely for approaching on 60 years? It’s not as if Exxon doesn’t have the money to deal with the cleanup costs. In 2006 the company posted a yearly revenue of $371 billion (which is over $1 billion a day) which, to put in perspective, is more than the GDP of Saudi Arabia.

Finally, the State of New York has stepped up efforts to speed the cleanup process along. After a shady 1990 agreement with the oil companies that they should clean the mess some day with no apparent time line on its completion yielded absolutely nothing, the New York State Attorney General’s office finally sued ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, KeySpan, and PhelpsDodge. The suit seeks to expedite the cleanup, impose fines, and increase scientific testing of how the spill has affected the area and residents. Hopefully, this will mete out some responsibility where it was formerly shirked and lead to a clean(er) Brooklyn.

I still find it surprising that the Terminal Market fire last year didn’t set the whole area ablaze with its oil soaked grounds.

(image source New York Magazine)

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