New Yorkers sue Big Oil over decades-old underground contamination

The words “oil spill” tend to summon images of remote coastlines and goo-covered wildlife. But one of the nastiest spills going is in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Greenpoint neighborhood: a 17-million-gallon underground oil slick (bigger than the Exxon Valdez disaster) that has spread over an area as big as 41 football fields. A legacy of decades-gone oil refineries, the spill was discovered in 1978 and about half has been cleaned out since 1990. But when New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation last year suggested it would take another two decades to mop up all the crud, more than 20 Greenpoint residents got fed up — in December they sued for damages from Exxon, Chevron, and BP. Soil tests by Riverkeeper suggest that the spill may be emitting benzene gas, which can cause leukemia, and methane, which can explode in confined spaces — like the basements of Brooklyn homes. State health officials say other tests don’t show these hazards. Comforting.