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September 24, 2009

Velázquez, Weiner Clear Hurdle in Getting Federal Help for Newtown Creek

EPA announces that Newtown Creek has been nominated for “Superfund” designation

New York City – Representatives Nydia Velázquez (D – Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens) and Anthony D. Weiner (D – Brooklyn and Queens) today commented on the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it would nominate Newtown Creek, home to the largest coastal oil spill in American history, to its National Priorities List of Superfund sites. This begins the process of making the companies responsible for the pollution pay for the cleanup of Newton Creek, one of the most populated waterways in the country. The Creek divides Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Maspeth, Queens, and is home to over 446,000 local residents, including: 50 schools, senior centers, playgrounds, and hospitals.

The nomination is the result of years of work by Reps. Velázquez and Weiner to direct much-needed federal attention and resources to Newtown Creek.  In 2006, Rep. Weiner passed an amendment 415-0 to the Coast Guard Act to require the EPA to study the public health and environmental risks from the Newtown oil spill.  The results of that study found that the spill may be larger than originally estimated, but left many questions unanswered.  In 2008, Representatives Weiner and Velázquez secured a commitment from the EPA to conduct a new series of tests at four high-priority sites along the Creek to further evaluate the scope of contamination. Congress approved $1.89 billion to pay for Superfund sites in 2009 - $600 million came from this year’s Recovery Act.

Now that the site has been nominated to the National Priorities List, a 60-day public comment period begins.  If the site is designated a Superfund site, a four-step process will be initiated to clean up the area.  First, the site would undergo immediate stabilization to stop any immediate threats to the community, if necessary, by taking measures such as erecting a security fence or repairing a hazardous waste storage unit. Then the EPA would perform a comprehensive investigation of the site and analyze clean up options.  The EPA would then work to develop a plan to clean up the site.  Finally, the EPA would clean up the site or force responsible parties to do the necessary work.

Rep. Velázquez said, “The contamination in and around Newtown Creek is of catastrophic proportions and Greenpoint residents have suffered the consequences for too long.  Inclusion in EPA’s National Priorities List may help determine the best approach for cleaning up the creek. As the process continues, I look forward to examining the data as well as working with federal, state and city officials to identify a comprehensive plan to reclaim the pride of Brooklyn’s waterfront and protect New Yorkers.”

Rep. Weiner said, “I am pleased to see that while the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities and put the health and safety of Newtown Creek's residents at further risk, the EPA has decide to take action and hold these companies responsible for their negligence. Newton Creek is the single most polluted waterway in New York City, a legacy left by more than a century of heavy industrial activity.”

The Superfund program is the federal government’s principal program to cleanup the nation’s hazardous waste sites. Despite containing an oil spill one and a half times as large as the Exxon Valdez spill, Newtown Creek is not a part of the federal Superfund program and testing has not been completed by the EPA for admission into the nation’s Superfund program.

In 1978, the Newtown Creek spill was originally estimated at 17 million gallons – one and a half times larger than Exxon Valdez.  Evidence of the spill has been found across 55 acres, seeping into the Creek and settling under homes and businesses in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  It is the single most polluted waterway in New York City, a legacy left by more than a century of heavy industrial activity.