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EPA Makes Final Decision: Newtown Creek is Added to Superfund List

Release Date: 09/27/2010
Contact Information: John Senn (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today added Newtown Creek in New York City to its Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. The final listing will allow EPA to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the creek to determine what remedial actions need to be implemented. Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the 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.

“The toxic pollution in Newtown Creek is more than a century in the making. EPA is placing Newtown Creek on the Superfund list to ensure the creek receives a thorough cleanup,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Newtown Creek is a key urban waterway, which provides recreational and economic resources to many communities. Throughout the investigation and cleanup, we will work closely with the communities along the creek to achieve a revitalization of this heavily-contaminated urban waterway.”

EPA proposed Newtown Creek be added to the Superfund NPL list in September 2009. EPA received and considered public comments on its proposal before making its final decision.

EPA had previously responded to requests by members of Congress to evaluate specific sites along Newtown Creek by publishing a September 2007 report that contained a review of past and ongoing work being conducted to address the Greenpoint oil spill as well as recommendations regarding future work to assist with the spill response. The state of New York referred the site to EPA due to the complex nature of the contamination in the creek. EPA’s Superfund study and cleanup are expected to focus on the sediments in the creek and on identifying and addressing sources of pollution that continue to contribute to the contamination.

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 eat the fish they catch from the creek.

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 will review existing information about Newtown Creek to develop a plan for further investigation.

To date, there have been 1,627 sites listed on the Superfund National Priorities List. Of these sites, 345 sites have been deleted resulting in 1,282 sites currently on the NPL, including the seven new sites added today across the country. There are 61 proposed sites awaiting final agency action: 56 in the general Superfund section and five in the federal facilities section. There are a total of 1,343 final and proposed sites.

EPA today also added sections of the Black River in Jefferson County to the Superfund National Priorities List, bringing the number of Superfund sites in New York state to 86. Two other sites in New York had previously been proposed for listing, and 26 sites across the state have been cleaned up and deleted from the Superfund list.

For more information on Newtown Creek, visit http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/newtowncreek/. For more information on Superfund sites in New York state, visit http://www.epa.gov/region02/cleanup/sites/.

For downloadable, broadcast-quality b-roll video of Newtown Creek, visit http://www.epa.gov/region02/mediacenter/stockfootage.html.

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).

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