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Post details: The Devil’s Dictionary for Greenpoint Oil Spill


The Devil’s Dictionary for Greenpoint Oil Spill

Definitions by Adam Klasfeld

In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a “corporation” as “an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” He earned that cynicism from working at a newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, for almost three decades, but he would probably reel from how corporate doublespeak and political cant has advanced since his death.

If you’re feeling confused about the lexicon associated with the Greenpoint oil spill, Block Magazine fortunately is providing a tongue-in-cheek guide to some of the terms appearing in mainstream press coverage.

D.E.C.: [D.E.C.]
1.Theoretically, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, a government body tasked with “Conserving, improving, and protecting New York’s Natural Resources and Environment.”

2. Acted more like the Department of Exxon-Mobil Cover for decades after the Greenpoint oil spill was first discovered, until it gave the company its first consent order to clean up the plume in 1990.

3. Even then, the department was slow in enforcing the decree, and the cleanup only began five years later.

“Gold Coast”: [gohld kohst]
1. The New York Times quoted Queens Councilman Eric Gioia using this phrase in an article to describe housing prospects on the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront once the cleanup is completed.

2. The article, “Spitzer’s Office Takes On Oil Cleanup Case” (June 23, 2006), explains that Gioia already has met with “a half dozen developers.”

3. Nobody has reported the identities of these developers, or what their plans are for current Greenpoint residents once this development gets underway.

“household vapor tests”: [hous-hohld vey-per těsts]
1. New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation testing widely reported to have come out “negative” for toxic vapors.

2. According to the E.P.A.’s description of the results, “A review of the data collected by the NYSDEC shows that, in general, chemicals were detected at all locations in each home, but not in a pattern that would typically represent a vapor intrusion phenomenon.”

3. On page 7, the E.P.A. report states that vapor concentrations in “some commercial establishments” were found “above the Upper Explosive Limit.” Simply put, that means there was too much vapor for an explosion to ignite.

“impermeable layer of clay”: [im-pur-mee-uh-buh l ley-er uhv kley]
1. A geological formation said to trap the oil and oil products underground, preventing benzene vapors from contaminating the air.

2. The E.P.A.’s “Newtown Creek/Greenpoint Oil Spill Study” never refers to the clay as “impermeable.”

3. Department of Environmental Conservation soil tests came out positive for the presence of benzene that permeated this impenetrable layer.

“multiple causes”: [muhl-tuh-puh l kôz-iz]
- noun
1. As explained in ExxonMobil’s “Fact Sheets,” various oil companies and other industries have operated along the Newtown Creek since the mid-19th century, and have contributed to the pollution.

2. The New York Sun reported that ExxonMobil blames Paragon Oil (i.e. Chevron’s predecessor) for a bulk of the plume.

3. E.P.A. report: “Circumstantial evidence points to Exxon/Mobil as the most likely responsible party based on hydrocarbon forensics analysis, product thickness on the ground water, the direction of ground water flow and the seeps originating at the bulkhead adjacent to their property.”

4. Historical archives from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle show kerosene explosions, tank explosions, and oil refinery fires from ExxonMobil’s predecessor Standard Oil.

“oil and oil products”: [oil and oil prŏd'əkts]
1. As defined in Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s Second Amended Complaint, this legal term in the case Greenpoint v. Exxon includes, “oil, petroleum, petroleum products, oil additives, petroleum additives, petroleum product additives, gasoline, gasoline additives, including but not limited to lead, benzene, toluene, xylene, kerosene, refinery oil, solvents, and other hazardous and toxic substances and chemicals.”

2. One can consult the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)” ( to find out the effects of each chemical.

plume: [ploom]
1. A large, long, or conspicuous feather: the brilliant plume of a peacock.

2. A token of honor or achievement.

3. What Exxon-Mobil spokesman Barry Wood wants the press to call the 17 to 30 million gallons of oil and oil products oozing below the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint and the Newtown Creek, instead of a “spill.”

spill: [spil]
-noun and verb
1. (of a liquid, loose particles, etc.) to run or escape from a container, especially by accident or in careless handling.

2. What ExxonMobil denies happened in relation to the Greenpoint oil sp--, er, plume, because no single event triggered it.

3. What the plaintiffs in Greenpoint v. Exxon argue happened in October 1950, when an underground explosion that ripped out pavement, blasted manhole covers into the air, shattered windowpanes, and caused one resident to shout “Atom Bomb” according to a New York Times account of the incident.

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