The Newtown Pentacle

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Here’s what I did this summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin, one must discuss the context of the 400 Kingsland Avenue site. Formerly the home of the Standard Oil Company of New York’s Locust Hill refinery, this is one of the primary operational sites wherein ExxonMobil and its subcontractor Roux work on remediating the Greenpoint Oil Spill. The primary occupation of the 400 Kingsland site (there are several locations around Greenpoint) involves the removal and control of “VOC’s” (volatile organic compounds) which would otherwise be outgassing from the soil. There is a small structure with a battery of activated carbon filters attached to it visible in the right hand side of the shot above. The site is in DUGABO, which is my abbreviation for “Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp“. It is across the street from the Miller Building, and was where one of the greatest conflagrations in Newtown Creek history occurred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The refining of oil ceased on Newtown Creek by 1966, and today its all about distribution. The petroleum industry, in the form of Kerosene manufacture, was very much in place here just a few years after the civil war. Independent producers ruled the roost until the 1880’s and 90’s when John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil company arrived. By 1900, Standard had gobbled up all the competition. The Standard Oil Company of New York (SOCONY) was based here, and after the Federal Government broke up the national “Standard Oil Trust,” SOCONY continued on at this and other properties in Greenpoint. Through mergers and acquisitions, SOCONY eventually became known as Mobil oil. Mobil eventually merged with the former Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which had come to be known as Exxon by the time of the merger. The composite corporation inherited the sins of its parents, and that’s how ExxonMobil ended up on the hook for the oil pollution which underlies Greenpoint and parts of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is Jan Mun, an artist who proposed a project to both the Newtown Creek Alliance and to ExxonMobil wherein she would be investigating and demonstrating the usage and viability of mycoremediation (hydrocarbon eating mushrooms) in the Newtown Creek watershed. Jan consistently reminded everyone that this is an art project, an installation, and not a scientific experiment- which bears repeating. She proposed the project to NCA’s Kate Zidar, who then approached ExxonMobil for permission, and the company agreed to allow us on site and participate in it financially. All participants would need to attend a perfunctory safety class which instructed and informed all in the mores and methods of their safety culture. After ExxonMobil agreed, enthusiastically I would add, Kate asked a humble narrator if he would be interested in documenting the project for NCA.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every Tuesday during the summer of 2013, nearly, a group of us would head over to the ExxonMobil property and get suited up in safety gear- glasses, gloves, steel toe boots, hard hats, and vests. The mushroom spores came from a supplier in California, Paul Stamets, and Jan had an aesthetically pleasing plan to install the mushrooms in the form of “fairy rings” around the former well heads which once fed oil into those oil tanks which would be very familiar to longtime residents of Greenpoint.

In subsequent postings this week, the production of the fairy rings and the fruit they bore will be discussed.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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