Monday, December 15, 2008

Greenpoint's Black Death and Joe Lentol's Inaction

For those of you Greenpointers who didn't catch this story in the Times last week, I wanted to share with you this troubling article about the horrific health hazard that lurks unseen in our community. To sum up the article in brief, the big nasty secret no one in Greenpoint wants to talk about is that the air we are breathing is toxic.

And not just a little toxic. Very toxic.

To make things worse, everyone is complicit in keeping this big nasty secret quiet. Why? Well, the majority of us prefer to live with our heads in the sand, muttering the mantra, "Smell no evil, breathe no evil."

But many more in the community have their mouths shut, because they are afraid of their self-interest. Home owners don't want their property values to go down. Business owners don't want to drive away customers. Polluters don't want to acknowledge their mess. And, of course, our politicians want to deny culpability for failing to deal with the genuine environmental crisis on their hands, so they can keep on getting elected.

In the Times article, Councilman David Yassky dodges responsibility by throwing up his hands and lamenting Greenpoint's environmental woes. I find his empathy so comforting. The only problem is my lungs aren't soothed by his rhetoric. Doubtless, if the Times had bothered pressing a politician for more than a trite sound bite for a change, Yassky would have fallen back on something along the lines of that he has been trying his best to clean up the environment, but he's only been in office for seven years and there's only so much one can do in less than a decade.

Fine. So then what is Assemblyman Joe Lentol's excuse? Lentol's been in office since 1972. If he hasn't been able to make significant strides in addressing the environmental calamities torturing his district in three and a half plus decades, well, it seems pretty clear that he's not up to the task. I am certain that I will be challenged on this point by Lentol and Co. and emailed a list of the Assemblyman's environmental accomplishments by his friendly staff, but, quite frankly, their objections won't help me breathe any easier either. If they want to be really helpful, perhaps they can send us a breakdown on comparitive cancer and asthma rates for Northern Greenpoint versus somewhere like Park Slope, and we'll let the facts cough for themselves.

Oh, and let me be clear, I'm not excusing State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan. He just never does anything period, so I figured it wasn't even worth excoriating him for this particular instance of incompetance.

But, Brooklyn Optimist, why are you so mad, you ask? You're not being terribly optimistic.


Allow me to explain. Today, I am writing to you as a Brooklyn County Committeeman elected by his neighbors in Northern Greenpoint to speak up for them when no else has the guts to do so. Today, I am writing to you as a resident of Sutton Street, who is scared shitless that his block is being showcased in The New York Times as Brooklyn's Silent Spring. Today, I am writing you as a husband worried sick about his pregnant wife. Today, I am writing you as a father-to-be, who wonders if he has already been remiss as a parent to let his child be born into a swirling tempest of potential health hazards.

This article isn't about punditry. It's about people.

People who deserve clean air.

Maybe if David Yassky lived in Greenpoint, he'd be more concerned too.


Profile said...

I thought the following might offer some comfort: As of 2000, it seems like drug abuse and alcoholism were the most out-of-the-ordinary neighborhood problems. That said, people are certainly talking about Greenpoint pollution. And a few are taking action. A group at Parsons, for instance, has formed Parsons Students for Greenpoint to speak out against the oil seepage and related pollution. Maybe instead of hitting our heads against political walls, we try to galvanize some environmental groups (like NRDC) to step in?

Anonymous said...

Why would it matter that Councilman Yassky has only been in office for seven years? They only discovered the contamination they are discussing in the article about a year ago. No matter how long he had been in office Councilman Yassky et al couldn't have cleaned up something that hadn't up something that hadn't been discovered yet.

Laura Hofmann said...

David Yassky's office is actually responsible for seeding the Newtown Creek Alliance and uniting with Riverkeeper to help our community. I don't agree with David Yassky on everything. But regarding the Newtown Creek, he's been wonderful.

Joe Lentol has also been there fighting for our community regarding the numerous environmental offenses.

This community has been hit with one environmental attack after another.

If the finger of blame should be pointed at anyone, it should point toward NYS Dept of Health, NYS Dept Environmental Conservation. It has been there job to protect our health and environment and they continue to fail us miserably. If anything, the agencies were a support system for involved Oil Companies. That has changed a bit since our electeds and supportive groups like Riverkeeper, Newtown Creek Alliance have taken a hard ass approach in how they communicate with these agencies.

The folks I blame the most are the many many residents from this community who sit on their hands and wait for the skeleton crew of activists to fight every environmental offender that comes in.

I have to say as someone who is very active in this community it amazes me that folks care more about their property than peoples lives.

For anyone reading this blog, if you are interested in fighting for your community ... for parks, for trees, against polluters, for waterfront access, for human health ... let me know and I'll hook you up with an organization that working on that issue. Email me at
Less talk, more action.

Larua Hofmann

Tim Geoghegan said...

Yassky, like Mayor Mike and the rest of the Gang of 29 should adopt the campaign slogan "Never Trust The Voters." They are a vile, corrupt group of swine and the good citizens of New York City will show them on election day they while they may not care a wit about the people's will, WE SURE DO.

Aparna said...

Thanks for this news.

Ajlouny said...

Speak louder, and don't stop talking and one day they will take notice and make a change.