Thursday, August 21, 2008

Senator Clinton Pushes for Federal Cleanup of Newtown Creek

Superfund Designation Would Provide Federal Funding

by Conor Greene

The federal government should conduct testing at four hotspots along the Newtown Creek to determine whether a federal cleanup effort should move forward, according to U.S Senator Hillary Clinton.

In an August 13 letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, Senator Clinton requests that the agency “use its Superfund authority to conduct preliminary tests at four known hotspots along the Newtown Creek.”

The letter comes just weeks after two local members of congress, Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, held a press conference calling for the 3.5-mile creek to be named a federal Superfund site. The waterway, which runs east from the East River between Brooklyn and Queens, was polluted by as much as 30 million gallons of oil over 150 years of industrial activity.

“New Yorkers living in communities near Newtown Creek have suffered long enough,” said Senator Clinton. “We know that there are dangerous chemicals in the soil, water and air at sites around the Newtown Creek. It’s time to put the resources of the Superfund program to work to conduct additional tests at known contamination hotspots to see whether a federal cleanup should go forward.”

Clinton notes in the letter that the creek “is well known as one of the most polluted industrial waterways in North America, where chemicals from factories along the bed of the creek have seeped into the soil, sediment and water.” She adds that the issue is “of particular interest” to her as chair of the Superfund and Environmental Health Subcommittee and a member of the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee.

Much of the waterway’s pollution is believed to have occurred as a result of a huge oil spill, which was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978 and is thought to cover properties on as much as 70 acres in Brooklyn. The oil spill encompasses an area that is one-and-a-half times larger than the site of the Exxon Valdez spill. However, it has never been tested by the EPA for consideration for inclusion in the federal Superfund site.

Under a state remediation plan being carried out by ExxonMobil due to a court order, about 9.4 million gallons of oil have been removed from the area so far. Officials estimate that it will take until 2026 to finish the current remediation effort. While the creek is already a state Superfund site, the federal designation would mean millions of dollars of funding for testing and remediation.

“For years, the residents in the vicinity of Newtown Creek have been forced to live, work and play with toxic fume in the air and contaminated water, soil and sediment on the ground,” wrote Clinton. “This exposure has led to community concern about potential pockets of serious illness... The people of Newtown Creek have suffered long enough.”

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