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EPA Proposes Newtown Creek for the Superfund List of Hazardous Waste Sites

Release Date: 09/23/2009
Contact Information: Beth Totman (212) 637-3662, totman.elizabeth@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to add New York City’s Newtown Creek to its National Priorities List (NPL) of sites with known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories. The NPL is EPA’s list of sites that warrant further investigation and long-term cleanup; the listing will allow EPA to build on the extensive sampling of the creek that has already been done.

“Newtown Creek is one of the most grossly-contaminated waterways in the country,” said Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. “By listing the creek, EPA can focus on doing the extensive sampling needed to figure out the best way to address the contamination and see the work through.”

EPA responded to requests by members of Congress to evaluate specific sites along the creek by publishing a September 2007 report that contained a review of past work and recommendations regarding future work at Newtown Creek. The state of New York referred the site to EPA due to the complex nature of the contamination along the creek.

Newtown Creek is part of the core area of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, which has been designated by EPA as an “estuary of national significance.” Despite the ongoing pollution problems, some residents currently use the creek for recreational purposes such as kayaking, while others catch fish for consumption out of it. Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek and reveal the presence of pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air.

In the mid -1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8-mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. More than 50 industrial facilities 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. During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Some factories and facilities still operate along it, and various adjacent contaminated sites have contributed to its contamination. Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is badly polluted.

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act. Since then, a number of government-sponsored cleanups of the creek have taken place. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has sampled sediment and surface water at a number of locations along the creek since 1980. In early 2009, EPA sampled the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries. EPA also used the data collected to define the nature of the environmental problems associated with Newtown Creek as a whole.

With the proposal of this site to the NPL, a 60-day comment period will begin during which EPA solicits public input regarding this action. For instructions to submit comments, go to: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/pubcom.htm or contact Dennis Munhall, Region 2 NPL Coordinator at (212) 637-4343 or munhall.dennis@epa.gov.

For more information on the NPL Site listing process, visit: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm. For a Google Earth aerial view of the Newtown Creek site: http://www.epa.gov/region2/kml/newtown_creek.kml. (Please note that you must have Google Earth installed on your computer to view the map. To download Google Earth, visit http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html ).