"Since the water came into my house, I smell gasoline," Rodriguez told the board. "We got some help from FEMA, which we appreciated very much, but nothing else is there."
She was at Greenpoint’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant last week reporting her case to a panel of representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several others, all involved in picking through and making sense of the rubble left behind in the communities left in devastation.
Aside from the lingering smell of toxic fumes, which has continued to come and go from her basement and throughout the house, she told the board that contaminated flood waters have also left behind mold, which she says she has not been able to get cleaned out.
"We are two old people. My husband is 80-years-old and he's got cancer," she quietly told the board in her Spanish accent. "We have insurance, but the insurance don't want to pay the premiums."
While the flooding in Greenpoint wasn't as violent or visually damaging as other places after Sandy, like Breezy Point or Staten Island, the gradual rise of the water stirred up a variety of chemicals, metals and toxins from the bottom of the polluted creek, causing significant damage to homes and industrial sites in the community, according to Judith Enck, an EPA regional administrator.
“When the storm surge hit, not only was power lost but all of the major equipment was knocked out,” Enck said. “So we had, literally over the course of just a few days, millions of gallons of untreated sewage going directly into the New York Harbor.”
After the EPA discovered it took New Orleans three months to stop the sewage leak caused by Hurricane Katrina, they contracted engineers who dealt with the cleanup, similar use of temporary equipment and centrifuges.
The EPA’s analysis of the areas in and around Newtown Creek showed only low levels of toxins in the drinking water, however some abnormalities were reported.
“Semi-volatile compounds were found at very low levels or not detected at all, and no volatile organic compounds were detected,” Enck explained. “We did find levels low levels of gasoline and diesel derivatives, consistent with what you would find with road run-off.”
Nazli Parvizi, commissioner for the mayor's Community Affairs Unit, told the elderly Brooklyn resident news that neither one of them wanted to hear.
"With resulting work that needs to be done, whether its mold or new sheet rock or new carpeting, it falls on the responsibility of the homeowner," Parvizi reluctantly explained. "This isn't the answer that most people want to hear, but there really is not a city agency that cleans mold, the same way there's no agency that puts up sheet rock."
Parvizi explained that even while projects like Rapid Repairs, a project letting city contractors directly into homes to restore damages from the storm, there is just currently nothing that can be done for mold other than privately finding a contractor.
Affected residents have until Jan. 28, 2013, to apply for FEMA relief.