Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yes Virginia, There Is A Huge Huge Oil Spill In Brooklyn

(see 2 updates below)
Mother Jones has an excellent (and I mean EXCELLENT) update on the
country's largest urban oil spill (right in Brooklyn, larger than Exxon-Valdez, and courtesy of ExxonMobile) that Stuart blogged about a few months ago.

Something interesting happened when Stuart posted about the spill. A commenter to Stuart's post, claiming to be a Brooklyn resident, fervently disputed local news reports about the spill and claimed that almost no one in related lawsuits was from the neighborhoods near the spill.
The commenter initially seemed to be implying that there was no spill even though the spill itself is indisputable.

The commenter claimed that the recent news about the spill was just a smear campaign and cited rosy health stats; health stats that aren't from studies designed to exam the spill and its health effects (Which means that you can't use them to say much of anything about the spill, but more on that in a bit.).

I found it odd that someone would be so adverse to a cleanup effort in their own borough. I mean, even if adverse health effects were in a distant future, why wouldn't a resident in the area of the spill want a cleanup?

I did a bit of searching for other websites that had posted about the spill and found the same commenter posting the exact same text posted at Stuart's thread. That always raises a red flag. It raises the obvious questions, "Why would someone be searching every site that references the spill and then posting the same text at every site?" and "What Brooklyn resident, living near a potentially toxic spill, is going to embark on a web-campaign against the state and news agencies to make sure that the company responsible for the spill isn't smeared?" It just didn't (and still doesn't) add up.

Fast forward to now. Mother Jones has an update on that spill that is also a really good synopsis of the story to date. It also contains the perspective of people living near the spill and the admission by the state that no studies examining the effects of the spill have been, or plan to be, conducted. Some excerpts:
"you become something of a stink connoisseur when you live in Greenpoint," says Teresa Toro, who lives two blocks from Newtown Creek. The neighborhood features rows of meticulously kept houses, manicured parks, and caf├ęs catering to an influx of ex-Manhattanites, but it also remains the location of choice for projects that would never be placed along Fifth Avenue: sewage treatment, waste transfer, natural gas storage. For Toro, the oil fumes are the worst. "When the wind is just right, I can smell it blowing off the creek. Sometimes we can't open our windows. ...

By the time the environment department convened a public meeting last year, the neighborhood had built up a full head of steam. Hundreds packed the Princess Manor banquet hall to hear presentations by ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron, hectoring company representatives with catcalls of "liar!" and "shame on you people!" A health department spokesman tried to reassure the crowd, saying the state was unaware of any health threat but acknowledging that no studies had been done and none were planned. When state officials announced the cleanup would last another 20 years or more, the room fell silent.

That April, Riverkeeper obtained internal ExxonMobil documents showing that the company had known of high levels of benzene and other chemicals a decade earlier, when the substances were detected in a commercial property just 1,000 feet from the Pedota household. (ExxonMobil spokesman Brian Dunphy told Mother Jones that the tests, which were not conducted by the company, aren't proof of a health threat.)

This story is one is worth reading in its entirety. It really, really is. It's about a natural disaster that elected officials and wealthy oil executives wanted to keep underground, literally.

PostBlog: I see the commenter referenced above has already visited the Mother Jones piece! The comments are at the end of the article. Enjoy.

PostBlog2: The Post reported the other day on an EPA report that can be found here (there's a link to the report in pdf format at the bottom of the page). When the NY Post starts writing about the potential dangers of an environmental disaster, you know it's worth looking at.

As ExxonMobile and their lawyers try to spin themselves as the good guys working hard to clean up the spill, keep in mind this nugget that both Mother Jones and the NY Post articles report:

In March, ExxonMobil stopped its groundwater-cleanup pumps removing oil in response to a DEC lawsuit threat and once the company's discharge permits were revoked. This led to the shutting down of 23 of the 35 recovery wells, said officials.

The EPA said if the continues for a few more weeks, the loss of suction will release oil back into the ground.