Monday, July 14, 2008

Press Release: Weiner, Velazquez Call for Newtown Creek to be Designated as a Federal Superfund Site

Newtown May Be Eligible for $15 Million in Federal Funding - Up to 90% of the Average Cleanup Costs

Lead, Mercury, Cancer-Causing Agents, Heavy Metals among Chemicals Cited

New York City - Newtown Creek, home to the largest coastal oil spill in American history, could soon be designated as a federal Superfund site and receive federal clean up support, according to Representatives Anthony D. Weiner (D - Brooklyn and Queens) and Nydia Velazquez (D - Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens). The Representatives released a letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency today, calling on them to conduct preliminary tests at Newtown Creek. If these environmental tests find high levels of toxic chemicals, the entire Newtown Creek area could be included on the federal Superfund list and may be eligible for federal funding of up to 90% of the cleanup costs. Based on the average Superfund site cleanup cost, this could be up to an estimated $15 million in federal funding.

The Superfund program is the federal government's principal program to clean up 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 has never been tested by the federal EPA for admission into the nation's Superfund program.

To date, an estimated 9.4 million gallons of oil have been cleaned at Newtown Creek. Between 17 and 30 million gallons were spilled over an area which covers 55 to 60 acres. Estimates indicate it will take until at least 2026 to finish the remediation.

Rep. Weiner, a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, the House panel with jurisdiction over the Superfund program, together with Subcommittee Chairman Gene Green (D - Texas), Vice Chairwoman Hilda Solis (D - California) and Rep. Velazquez, today released a letter to the EPA identifying four sites along Newtown Creek for priority federal review, including two former hazardous waste facilities, a former copper smelting plant, and a former coal gasification complex.

The designation would trigger a lengthy four-point process. First, the site would undergo immediate stabilization, which includes a one-year clean up to stop any immediate threats to the community, if necessary, 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 cleanup options Traditionally this takes months to years. The EPA would then work to develop a plan to clean up the site On average this takes 2 years. Finally, the EPA would clean up the site, or force responsible parties to clean up the site. On average, the cleanup process takes 8-11 years.

The federal Superfund program, created in 1980 in response to the presence of chemical waste in the groundwater and even basements of neighborhood homes and an elementary school in upstate New York, gave the government the authority to take direct action to clean up uncontrolled hazardous chemicals that are endangering public health or the environment. Superfund also provides the government with the authority to compel responsible parties to clean up contaminated sites.

Funding for the Superfund, however, has dropped from a recent high of $3.8 billion in 1997 to only $178 million in 2007. The drop in funding is the result of expired taxes on the oil and chemical industries as well as an expired corporate environmental income tax in 1995.

In order to be considered for the Superfund program, the EPA performs preliminary tests to decide if the site poses a threat, and where the site should rank in priority on the Superfund list While some parts of the Newtown site are being addressed by state Superfund cleanups, there has not been any federal testing or consideration to date for admission into the federal Superfund program.

Working with the EPA, Weiner and Velazquez identified four sites as the highest priorities for federal environmental testing in consultation with Riverkeeper, Inc. on the basis of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Attorney General records State tests have found the following toxic chemicals and heavy metals in the area: cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, and mercury, petroleum-related hydrocarbons, an underground plume and/or tanks containing polychlorinated biphenyls and petroleum waste, and up to 70,000 gallons of PCBs-laden waste oil and additional amounts of solvents.

Rep. Weiner said, "While the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities, the health and safety of Newtown Creek's residents hang in the balance. Testing these four sites will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill's health risks and give this national environmental disaster national attention."

"It's time for the EPA to acknowledge what the people who live here already know: the contamination of Newtown Creek is nothing short of a human tragedy," Congresswoman Velázquez said "The EPA should use its strongest tools possible to begin remediation The time to act is now."

"Riverkeeper continues to fully support Congressman Weiner's and Congresswoman Velasquez's efforts to ensure a comprehensive cleanup of Newtown Creek," said Basil Seggos, Chief Investigator and Hudson River Program Director. "Listing Newtown Creek as a Superfund site would undoubtedly bring us closer toward realizing our shared vision for cleaner waterways and greener communities."

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.

In April 2008, the House of Representatives passed language to fully map the Newtown Creek oil spill. The provision requires new field testing and will create a three-dimensional study of the plume location, detailing - for the first time ever - the extent of the Newtown Creek's groundwater, soil, and vapor contamination. Pending Senate passage, the study, the biggest, most comprehensive data
collection to date, would also be completed by the EPA.

In 2007, Weiner and Velazquez released the findings of an EPA study of Newtown Creek, which found that the spill may be larger than originally estimated, but left many questions unanswered.