Residents of Brooklyn neighborhood worried about health impact of fumes

In February, Mary Cinadr says she became noticing a distinct smell of gasoline in the mornings and evenings at her ground floor duplex apartment on Freeman Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Now she worries, they made her sick.

"I thought it was a passing smell that didn't pose any health risks, and then I started to notice things like headaches and dizziness," she said.

She also, realized, she wasn't alone.

"I started to get increasingly worried about my health and in talking to neighbors, I realized there are a lot of people worried about these fumes," Cinadr said.

A Facebook group was formed, and residents began mapping reports of petroleum fumes.

"It's literally on every block, it smells like petroleum," Greenpoint resident Francoise Olivas said. "Sometimes you can taste chemicals, we'll be walking by a new building and you can taste it in the air."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation determined there were elevated levels of petroleum fumes in several areas, including Cinadr's apartment and on nearby Green and Huron streets. Rodney Rivera, a special assistant to DEC Region 2, said the department found a buildup of petroleum compounds in nearby sewers and faulty sewer connections in some buildings.

"Due to those faulty sewer systems within the building it was backdrafting in from the sewer lines themselves," Rivera said.

DEC set up a fan to push fumes out of Cinadr's apartment and ordered the city's Department of Environmental Protection to flush the compounds out of the sewers.

The state Department of Health offered Cinadr relocation assistance for about five weeks and she moved out. But that was on May 1, months after the fumes began.

She since received a medical diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy and said doctors are looking into whether the fumes were a cause. She said symptoms include pain and numbness in her toes and hands.

And even her dog got sick.

"The dog has peripheral nerve sheath tumor," Cinadr said. "The veterinarian said that's very rare in dogs and that diagnosis came about a week after I was diagnosed."

The state Department of Health, which is working with DEC on the investigation, said in a statement: "The risk for health effects depends on the extent of the odor, the length of time and how often a person is exposed, as well as individual characteristics such as person’s age, general health, and sensitivity to the odors."

For its part, DEC is still investigating the source of the petroleum compounds that caused the fumes and measuring levels in the neighborhood and said DEP is continuing to flush the sewers.

Rivera said there has been a noticeable improvement since DEP began flushing compounds from the sewers.

But Cinadr and others in the neighborhood worry more needs to be done to monitor the problem and mitigate the effects.

"It terrifies me," Cinadr said. Her rental assistance ran out last week, and she has been living out of a suitcase, staying with family and friends.

Two town hall meetings specifically addressing the petroleum fumes were held in May, and again last week when representatives from state and city agencies were present,

"I'm not disappointed, I'm heartbroken, that in early May we held [a town hall], and nothing changed," Cinadr said.

Residents planned to discuss their concerns at a North Brooklyn Development meeting Monday night at 176 Java Street in Greenpoint.