In 1978 a US Coast Guard helicopter on a routine check spotted oil spilling into Newtown Creek. An estimated 30 million gallons leaked into the soil and water, causing health and environmental problems to the residents of Greenpoint – human and otherwise – ever since.
This week, 36 years after the spill was first noticed, the government will receive more money to clean up the site from the people responsible for turning the creek into a polluted waterway. On Tuesday, the US government reached a settlement with Getty Petroleum which will pump an additional $16 million into the clean up of the designated Superfund site. As reported in the New York Post, Getty filed for bankruptcy back in 2011 and the federal government will receive the $16 million as part of that process.
There’s a whole sludge of events at Greenpoint’s very own Superfund site, Newtown Creek.
State of the Planet, a blog from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is reporting that the city effort to clean up the polluted waterway is having an unintended effect.
According to a new study the clean up process is releasing sewage bacteria and other particles into the air above the site. The study is one of the first to establish a link between water pollution and air-quality, raising new questions about the health risks posed by dirty water.
Newtown Creek is already a source of combined sewage run-off, and could become even worse due to rising sea levels due from climate change. The New York Times ran an article highlighting the seriousness of the issue this Monday.
Don’t jump off the Pulaski Bridge just yet, Greenpointers. The news at Newtown Creek is not all bad. Here are just a few of the many upcoming community events looking to make the most of revitalizing our waterfront. Continue reading →
Do you find it ironic that Greenpoint features the environmentally friendly Rooftop Farms, the new McGolrick Park Farmers Market, a Clean Green Dry Cleaners on Nassau Ave, among many other “green” initiatives? Are you confused that the Earth Day Celebration in McCarren Park is sponsored by Exxon Mobil?
It seems contradictory to be living in a very toxic place and at the same time celebrate so many eco-friendly things. It’s like eating organic kale in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other hand.
So what is the point?
The point is, we live here and we love it! And we can’t just give up on Greenpoint. Generations ahead of us will call this place home and it’s important we make sure it is cleaner and healthier for them and safe for us in the meantime.
Instead of being cynical about all of these exciting “green” developments in the community, embrace them and look at them as steps towards cleaning up Greenpoint.
A very important panel discussion called Is Greenpoint Safe? was held at Anella recently. Organizers created this important document to help you become more informed and understand how you can get involved, get educated and get Greenpoint on the right track.
A few important things to note: The Newtown Creek is a Superfund Site, if you live above or near the Meeker Ave plumes it’s important to get your home tested right away for harmful fumes, oil spills and bad odors are cause for action, houseplants can help improve air quality in your home, eating food from your garden may be contaminated with lead or other toxic chemical so test the soil, and composting, limiting the use of harmful cleaners in your home and adopting a tree are all ways you can directly act towards making Greenpoint a cleaner and healthier place.
Please discuss and share this information with friends and neighbors.
Over a year ago, on September 27, 2010, the EPA opened a new chapter on the ongoing saga of our polluted waterway by designating the Newtown Creek a federally recognized Superfund Site. This program, which allocates federal money towards research and remediation and aggressively pursues polluters for subsequent remuneration, is contentious because it carries a powerful stigma; however, being on the Superfund list provides our neighborhood with powerful tools for improvement.
A year later, on October 25th, the EPA invited members of the public to an information session to educate locals on the upcoming plans for the creek. At the meeting I was told to keep an eye on the website, where data and announcements will be made public. Officials also informed me that studies into the physical geography of the waterway are set to begin next spring, including bathymetry to determine the exact geometry of the waterway and acoustic studies to find sunken obstructions, among others.
Following these will be chemical analyses to determine the exact nature of the contamination and identify areas that may still be leaching pollutants into the waterway. Interestingly – perhaps suspiciously – these studies will be conducted by firms hired and paid for by the polluters themselves, though this will of course be under EPA scrutiny and direction.
Perhaps the most interesting information I learned was that this process involves coming up with a general cost for the pre-remediation studies – in this case, 25 million dollars for the studies alone, only 5 million short of what the entire remediation effort costs at the average Superfund site – and then leaving it up to the identified polluters to decide amongst themselves who is responsible for what portion of that cost and to fund the studies themselves. The degree to which individual companies are held financially responsible is based in part on their contributions to the pollution and in part on their ability to pay; the EPA avoids bankrupting companies in pursuing remediation funding.
This is a long process, and we shouldn’t expect remediation to begin for at least 5-7 years. I was told – hesitantly, and in no uncertain terms that this was only the widest of estimates – that the cost of remediation would be around 500 million at the absolute minimum. Ours is what the EPA terms a regional “megasite” due to the nature, extent, and history of contamination. It’s a dubious honor, to be sure.
This process will prove pivotal to the future of our neighborhood, so be sure to keep a close eye on the EPA website for updates and future public meetings. If you have additional questions, contact these EPA representatives for more information: