Toxi City: Exploring Brooklyn's Industrial Legacy


Yesterday I took a walk through Greenpoint and Williamsburg. 101-05 West Street appears unchanged from my last visit in 2009.
But everywhere else there appears to be construction. Transmitter Park around the corner is underway. The Pencil Factory Condos are finished now. They are named for the Faber Pencil factory that was between Greenpoint and Kent and Franklin and West, across the street from 101-05 West Street. There is also construction on the Greenpoint Avenue side of this block. It seems a matter of time until something is built at 101-05 West Street.

Self-portrait on Oak Street.

Bushwick Inlet.

Former Williamsburg Works site. Kent between N. 12th and 11th.
In the summer of 2009, there was active testing being conducted on this site. The results of those tests have not been posted to the NYSDEC Environmental Site Remediation database record for this site. It had been cleared and was fenced off. It now appears that the site has reverted to use as a parking area.

It seems like there is a long way to go before this area becomes Bushwick Inlet Park.

On N. 13th, where the Wythe Avenue holder once stood, there was quite a bit of activity.

Construction debris on N. 12th Street looking towards the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Union Avenue. This statue commemorates the church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel that stood at Union Avenue and Jackson and was torn down in order to build the BQE.

Ansbacher Color and Dye Factory. 310 N. 7th Street.
I am making a piece about this site for an group show that will use augmented reality: D├ęcollage: Torn Exteriors. It is curated by my friend Sarah Drury and will open at Ventana 244 in April. First, I need to figure exactly where the factory was. 304 is still standing and was in 1898 the Ridgewood Color Works according to the Ulilitz map in the NYPL digital collection. It is now owned by the Candle Development corp. It does not look open and there is an EPA action against the owners dating to 2007. Next to this would have been 310 N. 7th. Now Meeker Avenue runs there parallel with the BQE.

The Ansbacher Color and Dye works made pigments for use in paints and inks. One of those was Paris Green. The name of the pigment comes from its use in the sewers of Paris to kill rats. It was also a pigment used by artists. Cezanne used it frequently. (See a report by The American Institute for Conservation.) It is possible that his diabetes was brought on by arsenic poisoning. Paris green was also used as an insecticide and as such marked the beginning of the use of chemical insecticides. Take a look at this ad for Ansbacher’s Paris Green. Empire Boulevard also used Ansbacher’s Paris Green in episode 11 for a poisoning. The NYSDEC record for the site states there are elevated arsenic levels in the surrounding yards. Given the proximity of the BQE, I am sure that is not all there is in the soil of those yards.



Meeker Avenue

Posted in Brooklyn,Greenpoint,Newtown Creek by Robin on December 4, 2010

On Sunday, November 14, I started on Norman Avenue. This building-or at least the building around the corner at 315 Kingsland-the former Spic and Span Cleaners and Dryers is a state superfund site. It is located over the Meeker Avenue plume. According to the NYSDEC record the primary contaminant is TETRACHLOROETHYLENE (PCE). Work has been done on the building since I was last here. The facade looks pretty cute. People are obviously living here.

The recent settlement between Exxon Mobil and New York State will hopefully speed up the pace of the cleanup of the huge oil spill under Greenpoint. This pickup was parked on Norman, a block or so from the hot spot at Apollo and Bridgewater and probably right over the Meeker Avenue plume. Maybe it was best that the kids stayed in the car.

Sunday on Bridgewater, it is pretty quiet.

Most of Meeker Avenue, named for Samuel M. Meeker, once the president of the Williamsburg Savings Bank, is now a service road for the BQE. A short section veers off from the BQE at it turns slightly to go over the the Kosciuszko Bridge, and offers an access point to the Newtown Creek. The Penny Bridge once crossed here at Meeker before the Kosciuszko was built in 1939.

Meeker Avenue was shut up pretty tight as well except for the guard at Empire Merchants. That site was once the Paragon Oil Company, owned by Texaco operated on that site until the late 1960s.

The view of the water was deceptively lovely.

There was nothing lovely about the water’s edge except a few autumn leaves.

Cherry Street was completely deserted. It runs along the BQE as it goes over the Kosciuszko Bridge. Cherry Street also runs over the Meeker Avenue Plume. A scrap collection business operates here. This seems to me a true hell. The ground underneath is contaminated both from the plume and the oil spill. The cars constantly passing overhead must rain down a steady stream of the pollutants in car exhaust.

The first section of the BQE that was built in 1939 was the section that connected Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint to Queens Boulevard. In 1950, an extension was built to the Williamsburg Bridge that ran over Meeker Avenue.

Some parts of Meeker Avenue have lost their character.

Other parts still look like Greenpoint.

Bushwick Inlet

Posted in Brooklyn,Brownfield,Greenpoint,Williamsburg by Robin on September 9, 2010

Last week, I went to Williamsburg to talk to Brian Walsh about mgps and state superfund sites for a documentary that he is making. Last year, testing was ongoing at the Williamsburg Works site. Now, there doesn’t appear to be anything happening at the site. A few cars were parked there. Interestingly enough, Bayside Oil whose property was on the Voluntary Cleanup Program list last summer is no longer on the list. This whole area along the waterfront is slated to become a park despite its very intense contamination.

Two blocks away is the Wythe Avenue Station site, now a state superfund site. Coal gas was stored on this site. Now it has several warehouses and a palet company on the block. People go to work on this site everyday. I don’t know what the exposure issues are or how dangerous it is to be on this site day in and day out but I know that I would want to know if my workplace was a state superfund site.

Newtown Creek

Posted in Brooklyn,Brownfield,Greenpoint,Newtown Creek by Robin on March 7, 2010

On Saturday, February 27th, I took a walk starting on Monitor street and making a circle around Norman to Apollo to see what kind of accessibility there is to photograph the areas where Brooklyn’s oil industry has such a long history. Monitor street is spectacular ending in the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The snow makes visible the car and truck emissions that usually just settles on the roads in a way that we don’t notice it.

Turning the corner and then heading down Kingsland one heads past the ExxonMobil site. It is behind an plain wall. For some reason this section of Kingsland Avenue is called Grandparnents Avenue.

Beyond that there is some parking.

Turn the corner on Norman and there is more parking. All of this area was once used for petroleum refining.

Parking and garbage dumping. This lot had a huge pile of mattresses.

The literal garbage and the visible pollution combined with the knowledge that this land was used for chemical production, oil refining and that underneath is both a huge oil spill and several vapor plumes combine to leave me feeling low.

BP still has an active oil storage on Norman and Apollo.

One block up on Nassau, people live.


Last Wednesday, July 22, I met Nina at the Nassau Avenue G train station. We started off down Nassau and were lured by the bright shine of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to turn down Monitor Street. Looking an amazing aerial photo from 1954 of the area I found on the Newtown Creek Alliance website, Monitor Street would have run right through Mobil’s Oil Refinery. So why isn’t this defined as brownfield?


We walked down Greenpoint Avenue and saw the Water Pollution Control Plant construction and some of the recycling activity. Paper. Metal. Then we walked back and over the JJ Byrne Bridge. The images can’t convey how deafening the truck traffic is.


Petroleum still has a visible presence.

As does just the old waterfront.

Then we walked back down Kingsland past the ExxonMobil “Greenpoint Remediation Project.” This I guess is the center of the huge spill in Greenpoint. From the bridge, the site looks completely innocuous.

315 Kingsland Avenue is the address of the former Spic and Span Cleaners and Dryers which is in the State Superfund program. TETRACHLOROETHYLENE (PCE). The site is part of the Meeker Avenue plume.



Posted in Brownfield,Greenpoint,Williamsburg by Robin on July 17, 2009
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I started this morning under the BQE. Between Metropolitan and Union Avenues along Meeker is a State Superfund site. The NYSDEC website states that debris from the Ansbacher Color & Dye Factory, which was at North 7th and Union, was used as fill under the roadway. I haven’t been able yet to find the footprint of this factory though I looked last week at the old maps at the Brooklyn Historical Society but I did learn that Paris Green, copper(II)-acetoarsenite, was made there on the Brooklyn page of
Looking out from under the BQE towards where I guess the factory would have been.

Under the BQE between Metropolitan and Union.

The next site, 291, 285 Metropolitan is under review for the Brownfield Cleanup Program. It appears to be an ordinary auto repair. This brings up the very important issue of what sites become designated brownfield sites. There are manufactured gas plants in Brooklyn that are not on the list. So why this auto repair?

Next, I walked over to the Williamsburg Works site. The remedial investigation is visible. On the north portion of the block, something was set up to take a deep underground sample. Men were working a hose down into the machine when I was there. There were new small piles of dirt in spots around the lot since I visited the site last month.

There is also a great view of Bayside Oil from 13th Street.

There was a gas holder on 13th street as well. There is now a pallet company there now.


Then I went up to West Street to try to find a site that theoretically has been remediated. I could not find the site right away. 101-105 West Street is supposed to be between Kent and Java on the West side of the street. According to the NYSDEC database, it is a construction material storage yard but from what I observed today there are two buildings on this block. It actually must be between Kent and Greenpoint Avenue. it is now boarded off with plywood.

March 27th – Greenpoint

Posted in Brownfield,Greenpoint by Robin on April 19, 2009
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I started at my least favorite place in Brooklyn: Maspeth Avenue.

Equity Works
At the corner of Vandervort, there is a site that was a MGP and is now a recycling facility. A line of trucks waits outside to dump their loads. I felt very intimidated and didn’t try to shoot.

Greenpoint MGP
Across the street is a huge site that was also a MGP. It is largely empty though there appears to be a baseball field on the site and on the far end, the Greenpoint Little League has its field. I asked the owner of Brooklyn Rebar which is across the street if I could go up into his two story building to get a better view of the site.


ACME Steel Metal Works
The building at 72 Lombardy Street goes through the whole block. The site is contaminated with trichloroethene (TCE) a chemical used to degrease metal.


ACME Steel/Metal Works

Meeker Avenue
I also walked to the end of Meeker Avenue at the Newtown Creek. a foul filthy spot yet you couldn’t tell at least the day I was there that there is both a huge quantity of petroleum spilled underground in this area as well as a plume of other chemicals that were usd in metal manufacturing and dry cleaning.