Oil Smell in Carroll Gardens Raises Health Concerns


A strange petroleum smell is causing health concerns among Carroll Gardens’ residents – and no one has been able to figure out where it’s coming from.

According to “Pardon me for Asking,” a blog about day-to-day life in the neighborhood, the reek is prevalent in the area surrounding the subway station at Smith Street and 9th Street and has been on and off during the winter months.

“When that oil smell is in the air, it is overwhelming and strong enough to smell inside if you don’t shut and lock all windows for those of us who live nearby,” a concerned resident wrote to the author of the blog.

Worried about the health consequences of the odor, residents have been complaining to the local community board’s office, to the city’s 311 information hotline and to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Exposure to oil fumes in residential areas is an issue that deserves attention because petroleum contains organic chemicals, such as benzene, hydrogen sulfate and formaldehyde, that can cause several health problems, said David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany.

“Cancer is the main concern,” he said.

Carpenter explained that cancer only becomes a risk if the person is exposed to the smell for a long period of time. However, he also said that, since the disease only appears 20 or even 30 years after exposure, many people who live in industrial areas might be developing cancer without realizing it.

Being surrounded by oil smells is also known to cause both immediate and long-term respiratory problems. The immediate symptoms include: sore throat, coughing, increase in asthma attacks and nose bleeding, he said. The long-term consequences, on the other hand, are bronchitis and chronic pulmonary disease (bad airflow.)

“These organic chemicals also act on the brain, they cause headaches and fatigue, they reduce memory and other brain functions,” he said. “These effects are also quite immediate.”

Among the complaints, there were two oil spill reports filed to the Department of Environmental Conservation on January 26. The residents who filed the reports claimed that the oil spill happened in Bayside Oil Depot, located on Smith Street and Garnett, just a couple of blocks away from the subway station.

However, Bayside Vice President Vincent Allegretti said that that there was no oil spill in his depot and that, in spite of the angry calls he has received from residents in the last few weeks, Bayside is not the source of the smell.

“I have been operating my business since the 1990s. Nothing has changed,” he said. “There was no oil spill.”

After receiving the reports, the Department of Environmental Conservation opened an investigation and confirmed that Bayside had not suffered any oil spills in recent months, Randy Austin, a representative from the department, said.

As part of the investigation, the department also inspected Public Place, a contaminated 243,000 square feet site located next to the subway station, Austin added. The department found out that, even though there have been environmental cleanups at Public Place in the past, there is currently no activity going on there.

“We are kind of in a dead end in terms of finding out where this odor was,” Austin said. “Obviously if there is more complaints we will investigate further.”

Although the department has come and gone, the smell remains.

The odor is like a very pungent combination of oil and burning paper, resident Ana Larios DiMaria said.

“The smell can be unbearable at times, I keep the windows closed all day,” she said.

Hector Cariño, an employee at a bagel store located in Smith and 9th Street, said the odor first appeared after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but then it kind of faded away until a couple of months ago.

Based on this information, Austin said that the smell might be caused by specific environmental conditions that are not always present.

“For example, low air pressure and moisture make odors travel further down,” he said.

Residents upstate are also dealing with acrid oil smells, Carpenter said. A lot of oil is transported by train from the fields in North Dakota to the port in Albany, where the oil is then shipped down the Hudson River to the refineries in New Jersey and other places, he added.

Although some Carroll Gardens’ residents are very bothered by the odor, some others think it is simply one of the consequences of living near an industrial area.

“For the most part I believe I have actually grown accustomed to it,” said Dana Gallagher, who has been living in Carroll Gardens for more than a decade. “But sometimes when I am running in certain parts of the neighborhood I am like ‘wow’.”


Industrial Noise

Other than the smell, residents have also been complaining about the industrial noise coming from the metal yard right across the subway station.

Click on gallery to see full pictures and captions