Thursday, August 28, 2008
Feds Agree to Study Newtown Creek Spill
Could Lead to Superfund Designation
By Conor Greene
Two local lawmakers are one step closer to having the Newtown Creek included in the national cleanup program. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to conduct testing at several sites along the creek, which could lead to its inclusion in the Superfund program.
Representatives Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, both Democrats who represent parts of the area surrounding Newtown Creek, had called on the EPA to test the area to see if it warranted inclusion in the federal Superfund program. Doing so could lead to millions of dollars in funding for the cleanup and allow the federal government to hold the companies causing the contamination responsible.
The creek is a 3.5-mile waterway running between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Maspeth, Queens. It is known as the city’s most heavily polluted waterway and was the site of a huge oil spill in 1950.
This week, Weiner and Velazquez’s offices released a letter from Alan Steinberg, regional administrator at the EPA, informing them that agency will work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is conducting its own cleanup of the creek, to determine what chemicals are present there.
“To address your concerns regarding testing of the abovementioned properties (Phelps Dodge, BCF Oil, Quanta Resources and National Grid), and to define the nature and extent further of the hazardous substances that may be present… EPA will review existing information from ongoing and past environmental investigations,” he wrote.
Following the review of the investigations, the EPA will “develop a sampling plan” to fill in any gaps in data that may be needed to determine whether the Newtown Creek is accepted into the Superfund program. “We anticipate that this effort will take approximately six months to complete. Once the data are collected, EPA will evaluate what additional actions, if any, may be warranted in accordance with CERCLA,” wrote Steinberg. CERLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which was the 1980 law creating the Superfund program.
Steinberg notes in the letter, dated August 15, that the state DEC “has investigated a number of sites in this area… that are potentially contributing to the contamination in Newtown Creek… As you know, a major impact on Newtown Creek is associated with oil releases that are being addressed through state enforcement and oversight of cleanup efforts conducted by private parties.”
The state cleanup effort involves an agreement reached with ExxonMobil forcing the company to clean up about 17 million gallons of oil that leaked into the ground and water when a tank exploded in 1950. The spill was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978, and to date about half of the spill has been cleaned up.
Basil Seggos, chief investigator for Riverkeeper, said the announcement means “a restored Newtown Creek is within reach.” The EPA’s resources “will prove indispensable in protecting the creek and its surrounding communities from a legacy of toxic dumping,” he said.
Weiner called the EPA’s commitment to test the sites “a big win” for residents living near the creek. “These tests will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill’s health and environmental risks, giving this environmental disaster the national attention it deserves.”
In other news related to Newtown Creek, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced recently that an Appellate Court judge has ruled that a case against a cement company accused of illegal dumping can move forward.
In 2005, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes charged Constantine Quadrozzi and his company, Quality Concrete of Metropolitan Avenue with violating multiple provisions of the state Environmental Conservation Law and with dumping hazardous materials into the creek.
A Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice later dismissed the entire indictment after ruling that Hynes lacked the authority to prosecute cases under the Environmental Conservation Law without the involvement of the state DEC and that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.
Following an appeal filed by Hynes’ office, the Appellate Division rejected those conclusions and reinstated all of the charges contained within the appeal, the district attorney announced on August 21.