Queens, NY – U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan today joined U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Judith Enck, Superfund Director Walter Mugdan and New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland on a boat tour of the Newtown Creek Superfund cleanup area. The tour, led by Administrator Enck, took the lawmakers to several of the major sources of pollution in Newtown Creek, and showed the lawmakers areas where the EPA has taken core samples and conducted other preliminary environmental sampling to determine the extent and severity of pollution in the waterway.
In July 2011, after a year of preliminary investigation, the EPA entered into a consent order with six potentially responsible parties to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study for the cleanup effort. Field work for the remedial investigation will begin later this month. This study will examine the specific factors surrounding Newtown Creek and connecting tributaries, and determine the nature of the waste, assess risk to human health and the environment, and evaluate potential cleanup methods. The remedial investigation could take five to seven years to complete. The actual removal of contaminants from Newtown Creek could take another ten years after that. The EPA’s preliminary estimates place cleanup costs at $300-400 million.
“For far too long, Newtown Creek has been a disgrace: a toxic dumping ground since the mid-1800s, a blight on our waterways, and the scene of perhaps the largest oil spill of all time -- three times the size of the Exxon Valdez. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for a toxic site of this magnitude. This will be an enormous and complicated cleanup that could cost more than $400 million dollars and stretch as long as fifteen years – but the results will be worth it for the residents of our community. Restoring the health of both sides of Newtown Creek will give residents of Queens and Brooklyn improved access to the waterfront and make our neighborhoods healthier places to live. I thank my colleagues and good friends Congresswoman Velázquez, Borough President Marshall, and Assemblywoman Nolan for their leadership and advocacy for cleaning up Newtown Creek, and I thank Administrator Enck and Commissioner Strickland for their work to move this cleanup forward and to organize today’s tour,” Maloney said.
“Cleaning up Newtown Creek will provide Brooklyn and Queens residents with a safer, healthier community. There’s still a long way to go, but it is clear the Superfund process is under way and I’m pleased to see progress being made,” said Velázquez.
“I thank Commissioner Strickland for organizing today’s tour and all our state and federal partners for their advocacy and commitment to clean up Newtown Creek. The more we find out about this polluted waterway, which affects two boroughs, the more we see the need to move the feasibility study along and remediation, in the form of a massive cleanup, to begin,” said Marshall.
“Newtown Creek has been used for far too many years as a toxic waste dumping ground,” said Nolan. “I am pleased to see that those responsible for polluting Newtown Creek will be contributing to this study, and that we will eventually be able to have a plan in place to clean up this horrible mess. I want to thank my colleagues Congresswoman Maloney, Congresswoman Velázquez and Borough President Marshall for their leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work alongside them. I also want to thank Administrator Enck and Commissioner Strickland in putting together this tour and for helping to get this project moving.”
Since the mid-1800s, the shores of Newtown Creek have been home to industries that spewed a staggering array of pollutants into the waterway. More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals, and metals. In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856.
In late September of last year, the EPA designated Newtown Creek as a Superfund site. This designation will allow the EPA to conduct extensive testing to determine the nature and extent of pollution in the creek and to formulate a plan to clean it up.
Congress established the Superfund Program to locate, investigate, and clean up the most hazardous sites nationwide. It allows the Environmental Protection Agency to compel responsible parties to clean up the mess they made -- or to have the EPA do the work and have the responsible parties reimburse the federal government for the costs.
The EPA reports that potentially responsible parties include major oil companies, such as BP America, Exxon Mobil, and Texaco, and the City of New York. These and other potentially responsible parties will be paying for the remedial investigation and feasibility study for the site in the near future.
According to tests the EPA has already conducted at Newtown Creek, potentially harmful contaminants such as pesticides, metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in Newtown Creek along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air.