Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

NEWTOWN CREEK
BROOKLYN, QUEENS, NY

Cleanup Activities

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Background

Newtown Creek is a tidal arm of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary that forms the northwestern-most border between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.  It is a tributary of the East River and it itself includes five branches (or tributaries) along its 3.8-mile reach.  Historically, Newtown Creek drained the uplands of western Long Island and flowed through wetlands and marshes.  However, due to heavy industrial development and governmental activities dating from the 1800's, formerly wet areas have been filled, Newtown Creek has been channelized, and its banks have been stabilized with bulkheads and rip rap. The historic development has resulted in changes in the nature of Newtown Creek from a natural drainage condition to one that is governed largely by engineered and institutional systems. In the mid-1800s, the area next to the 3.8-mile-long creek was one of the busiest industrial areas in New York City. More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Newtown Creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals. In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856. During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Currently, factories and facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination at Newtown Creek.

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What Is Being Done to Clean Up the Site?

The Consent Order for the performance of the RI and FS by the Respondents under EPA oversight was finalized and issued by EPA in July 2011.  Anchor QEA, is currently conducting field work for the Respondents as part of a multi-year phased RI. The Phase 1 RI field work began in February 2012 and was completed in March 2013. The Phase 2 RI field work began in May 2014 and has been substantially completed. Human health and ecological risk assessments will be conducted to determine whether the site potentially poses an unacceptable risk to human health and/or the environment requiring a response action to be undertaken pursuant to CERCLA in order to protect human health and the environment at Newtown Creek.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

The RI commenced in July 2011 and is focused on a study area defined in the Consent Order as the waters and sediments of Newtown Creek.  The RI is being conducted in two phases under the oversight of EPA to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site. The Phase 1 RI, which included surveys of physical and ecological characteristics of Newtown Creek, as well as sampling of surface water, surface sediments, subsurface sediments and air, began in February 2012 and was completed in March 2013. The Phase 2 RI began in May 2014 and has been substantially completed. The Phase 2 RI includes, but is not limited to, further delineation of surface sediments, subsurface sediments and surface water, as well as the investigation of non-aqueous phase liquid, groundwater and other sampling in support of the human health and ecological risk assessments, such as biota sampling. The Respondents are also developing models that will assist, during the FS phase of the RI/FS, in evaluationg remedial alternatives.  The Draft RI Report was submiited to EPA for review on November 15, 2016 by the Respondents pursuant to the Consent Order.  The Draft RI Report contains all the data that was collected and analyzed during Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the RI and also includes drafts of the hydrodynamic and sediment transport models.

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EPA’s Involvement at the Site

EPA activities at the site are being undertaken pursuant to the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law.
EPA conducted an Expanded Site Investigation (ESI) of Newtown Creek in 2009 as part of the Hazard Ranking System scoring process.  Based on the ESI, which was focused on Newtown Creek itself and not its tributaries, EPA concluded that metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were present in Creek sediments at concentrations above levels in nearby locations in the Atlantic basin.  The variety and distribution of the detected constituents suggests that they originated from a variety of sources.  Previous environmental investigations of Newtown Creek, or specific portions of the Creek (including investigations performed by certain of the parties ((identified below)) under oversight of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and investigations performed by the City of New York in connection with proposed navigational dredging) also disclosed that sediments in Newtown Creek are contaminated by a wide variety of hazardous substances.  Environmental investigations of certain upland parcels adjacent to or nearby the Creek have disclosed contamination of those parcels by hazardous substances similar to hazardous substances found in sediments in Newtown Creek.
EPA proposed Newtown Creek for listing on the National Priorities List (NPL) of hazardous substance releases throughout the United States on September 23, 2009 and Newtown Creek was added to the NPL on September 29, 2010.
In July 2011, EPA issued an administrative order on consent (Consent Order) to six potentially responsible parties (PRPs), requiring that they perform a remedial investigation (RI) and Feasibility Study (FS) at Newtown Creek under EPA oversight.  These PRPs, 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 (Respondents) are the respondents to the Consent Order.  Anchor QEA is the technical contractor conducting the RI on behalf of the Respondents.   

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