Overview of the Site
In the mid-1800s, the area next to Newtown Creek was one of the busiest industrial areas in New York City. In 1856, the city began dumping raw sewage into the water. During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Factories, warehouses, petroleum bulk storage facilities, municipal and utility infrastructure, and other industrial and commercial facilities still operate along the creek. As a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.
Potential contaminants of concern (PCOCs) in creek sediments include metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In total, the Newtown Creek Superfund site is a 3.8-mile reach that includes Newtown Creek and its tributaries: Dutch Kills, Maspeth Creek, Whale Creek, East Branch and English Kills.
The compounds pose potential risks to both humans and the ecosystem. For people, the risks are created when a person comes in contact with the contaminants. They can do this by eating fish/shellfish, coming in contact with water or sediment, or breathing airborne toxins. Today, the following cautions are in order
- Eating fish or shellfish from Creek not advised.
- Swimming or wading in the Creek could harm health and should be avoided.
- Recreational boaters should minimize contact with water & wash or bathe afterward.
- Some construction workers face increased health risks.
Today, the Newtown Creek Site is in the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) phase. It has been divided into three units which are known as Operable Units (OUs). OU1 is the entire sediment site in the Creek from the mouth of the East River to the head of the Creek. OU2 is the Superfund aspect of the City of New York’s approach to combined sewage overflow (CSOs). OU3 is the first two (2) miles of the Creek and a proposed early action remedy by the Newtown Creek Group, a group of most of the responsible parties for cleanup.
As of April 2020, EPA has named the following companies as Potentially Responsible Parties: Phelps Dodge Refining Corporation, Texaco, Inc., BP Products North America Inc., The Brooklyn Union Gas Company d/b/a National Grid NY, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, The City of New York, Simsmetal East LLC, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK), American Premier Underwriters, Inc., Connell Limited Partnership, The Long Island Railroad Company, Motiva Enterprises, LLC, Irving Subway, and Shell Oil Company.
Superfund at Newtown Creek
Full details about the process and the site can be found on the US EPA Newtown Creek Superfund Site web page.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a preliminary assessment and site inspection (PA/SI) in 2009 and listed Newtown Creek on the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites in 2010.
In 2011, EPA issued an administrative order on consent (Consent Order) to six potentially responsible parties (PRPs), also called the Newtown Creek Group (NCG): Phelps Dodge Refining Corporation, Texaco, Inc., BP Products North America Inc., the Brooklyn Union Gas Company d/b/a National Grid NY, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, and the City of New York.
The Consent Order requires the PRPs to complete a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) for Newtown Creek under EPA oversight. The RI is conducted to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site. The FS identifies and evaluates remedial alternatives using data from the RI. The Newtown Creek site RI/FS is primarily concerned with determining the level of contamination and the risk associated with that contamination in the creek’s surface water, sediment, air, habitats, benthic community, and fish community. If additional data is needed to complete an evaluation of remedial alternatives, additional investigation activities may be added to the RI.
After the RI/FS is completed, EPA will select a remedy (i.e. a cleanup plan) in a decision document called a Record of Decision (ROD). Leading up to the ROD, EPA selects a preferred remedy and presents this remedy in a document called the Proposed Plan. After the ROD, detailed cleanup plans will be developed and put in place during the remedial design and remedial action (RD/RA) stage. Cleanup completion and monitoring follow, during the construction completion and post-construction completion stages. Once the site remedies are fully protective of public health and the environment, EPA will delete the site from the NPL.
Related Cleanup Efforts
While not part of the Superfund site, two other related programs are on-going and related to the Superfund site: these are the upland property investigation and remediation and Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) draining directly into the Creek.
First, the adjacent upland properties along the Creek were or are contributors to the Creek’s contamination. Numerous properties along the Creek are being investigated and cleanup under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The figure below identifies these properties.
Second, there are 22 Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) draining directly into the Creek discharging some 1.2 billion gallons annually. CSOs occur where the sewage system was designed to collect both wastewater and storm runoff in the same pipes. In dry weather wastewater is transported to a treatment plant. But during periods of heavy rainfall, the combined sewage and stormwater volume can exceed a sewage treatment plant’s capacity. The CSOs are designed to overflow during heavy precipitation events and discharge excess wastewater directly into Newtown Creek. NYSDEC has required NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to develop a long-term control plan (LTCP) to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Creek to comply with Clean Water Act standards.