Sizing up spill - State to find scope of oil slick

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The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to a previous Environmental Protection Agency study on the Newtown Creek Oil Spill designed to produce a more definitive assessment of the largest coastal oil spill in United States history.

The amendment provides funding for a three-dimensional representation of the spill that measures its scope and shape in the water, in soil surrounding Newtown Creek, and in vapors in the air.

Commissioned at the behest of Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose district includes part of Newtown Creek, it is expected to be completed in one year.

“This moves us one step closer to protecting the health and safety of residents near Newtown Creek,” Weiner said.

It is designed as an addendum to an EPA study completed last September – commissioned by Weiner and Rep. Nydia Velazquez – that left many questions about the scope of the spill unanswered.

For instance, thirty years after it was discovered by Coast Guard helicopter patrols, the exact size of the spill remains unknown. A 1979 Coast Guard report estimated the size of the spill to be 17 million gallons, but the 2007 study found that figure might be a vast underestimation, saying the size of the spill might be 30 million gallons.

Also, the 2007 study determined that the area still effected by the spill was much larger than previously thought. The northern, western and eastern boarders of the spill were all found to extend farther out that thought.

The 2007 study also showed that, contrary to what had been assumed, the spill was not contained and was still spreading. The three-dimensional representation will show where it is spreading and what can be done to halt its progress.

By delineating the boundaries of the spill, officials hope the study will help assess necessary health measures going forward.

“Ideally it will show us that, if the spill is larger than we thought, what steps we have to take from here to clean it up and ensure the safety of people in the surrounding areas,” said Weiner spokesman John Collins.

“Most of the data that’s been used to map the health effects have been based on estimates. [The study] makes sure that we’re working with the most up-to-date info,” Collins said.

First and foremost would be measuring vapors seeping into Greenpoint homes and businesses, which the 2007 study concluded could be the primary health threat of the spill.

By fully mapping the area, health investigators would have a better sense of which areas to sample for harmful toxins in the air.

The study will also help clarify the areas of responsibility for different companies charged with cleaning up of the spill. Exxon/Mobil, BP/Amoco, and Peerless Importers all are on the hook for cleaning up the spill.

Like the previous study, this one will be paid for by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a pool of money that oil companies pay into for every barrel of oil sold in the United States.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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