The Environmental Protection Agency revealed on Wednesday that it is considering classifying North Brooklyn’s fetid Newtown Creek as a Superfund site — a designation that would clear the way for a federal clean-up of the filthy waterway.
Mere weeks before the agency will finalize its controversial plans to designate the Gowanus Canal as a Superfund site, the EPA announced its proposal to add the vile stream — which separates Greenpoint from Queens — to the same short list of polluted locations.
If the creek is approved as a Superfund site, the agency will have the ability to charge polluters and the owners of polluted land for the clean-up, and it will gain access to taxpayer money.
“Newtown Creek is one of the most grossly contaminated waterways in the country,” said EPA 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.” The 3.8-mile-long waterway has been an industrial hub for more than 150 years.
Beneath its banks resides a 30-million gallon oil spill that is three times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Researchers attribute the massive oil plume to slow leaks from numerous industrial landowners including, among others, ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil — which is in the midst of its own remediation program for a part of the spill.
Recent samples of Newtown Creek sediment and water — which, like the Gowanus, is flooded with billion gallons of raw sewage every year — reveal that the creek is contaminated with “pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and volatile organic compounds which are potentially harmful” and “can easily evaporate into the air,” according to EPA researchers.
The decision to seek a Superfund designation for the Newtown Creek comes in the wake of the agency’s contentious Superfund plans for the Gowanus Canal — though insiders said this plan would not be as divisive because, unlike the Gowanus, the land along the Newtown Creek’s banks isn’t being coveted for residential construction.
“There is not quite the pressure from residential developers like Toll Brothers that you see on the Gowanus, which is driving a lot of the skepticism against listing the Gowanus Canal,” said Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper — an organization that has long fought to clean the Newtown Creek.
It remains to be seen how the local politicians and even the city itself will react to the designation — though councilmembers and the mayor have strongly opposed the EPA’s plans for the Gowanus.
Industrial businesses on the banks of the canal including, among others, ExxonMobil, could be tapped for the clean-up, but a spokeswoman from the fuel giant said the corporation is “prepared to work cooperatively with the Environmental Protection Agency, the state, the city and all other potentially responsible parties to address the situation in Newtown Creek.”