BROOKLYN, QUEENS, NY
On this page:
- Site Background
- Stay Informed and Involved
- EPA’s Involvement at this Site
- Site Status
- Work to Protect Human Health and the Environment
- Site Risks
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.
Stay Informed and Involved
A Community Advisory Group (CAG) was organized for the Newtown Creek Superfund Site in May 2012. A CAG consists of representatives of diverse community interests with the purpose of providing a public forum for community members to present and discuss their needs and concerns related to the Superfund decision-making process. For more information regarding the Newtown Creek CAG, please visit their website at: https://newtowncreekcag.wordpress.com/
In addition to the CAG, an EPA Community Involvement Coordinator is assigned to the site and is available to address specific community concerns as they arise. The EPA Community Involvement Coordinator for the Newtown Creek Superfund Site is Wanda Ayala, who can be reached at 212-637-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Repositories containing additional information and significant documentation generated during the Superfund process can be found at the following locations:
• EPA Region 2 Superfund Records Center, 290 Broadway, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866
• Greenpoint Public Library, 107 Norman Ave. at Leonard St., Brooklyn, NY; 718-349-8504
• Long Island City Public Library, 37-44 21st Street Queens, NY; 718-752-3700
EPA’s Involvement at this 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.
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.
Work to Protect Human Health and the Environment
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.
There is insufficient information to determine the site-wide human exposure status at the Newtown Creek site. Previous sampling events have shown that the sediments in the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are contaminated with a variety of hazardous substances including pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These contaminants are potentially harmful to human health as well as to ecological receptors. EPA has initiated comprehensive remedial investigation activities at the site to further characterize the nature and extent of the contamination and to prepare risk assessments to determine the potential impacts to human health and the environment. EPA ensures community participation throughout the remedial process by meeting with residents and affected stakeholders, issuing public notices and updating fact sheets.
The New York State Department of Health completed a public health assessment for Newtown Creek in 2014, which reviewed existing environmental chemistry data in sediments and biological contaminants in surface water. Based upon this assessment, the State of New York concluded that full body immersion in the Creek (e.g., swimming, scuba diving) could harm people’s health due to biological contaminants and physical hazards. The assessment also concluded that activities such as kayaking and catch and release fishing are not expected to impact people’s health so long as precautions are taken, such as properly washing hands and avoiding the ingestion of surface water. Due to an increased risk for adverse health effects, the State of New York has also issued fish and crab consumption advisories for Newtown Creek. EPA’s study to evaluate the nature and extent of contamination in Newtown Creek is ongoing. For more information regarding the New York State Department of Health’s public health assessment, please visit the following link: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/pha/NewtownCreek/NewtownCreekPHA(final)02242014_508.pdf
The majority of the upland area bordering Newtown Creek is within one of three Industrial Business Zones of the City of New York, and the majority of Newtown Creek has also been designated by the City of New York as one of the City’s six Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas. Comprehensive plans developed by the City of New York for areas within one-quarter mile of Newtown Creek call for development of approximately 7,000 potential units of housing and nearly 8 acres of public open space along shoreline on or adjacent to Newtown Creek in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg area of Brooklyn that was rezoned to residential in 2005, and for development of approximately 5,000 potential units of housing, 11 acres of public open space and waterfront access along shoreline that is on or adjacent to Newtown Creek on land that was rezoned to residential in 2008 in the Hunters Point South area of Queens.
Currently, the predominant land use around Newtown Creek includes industrial facilities, petroleum bulk storage facilities, recycling facilities including for metals, asphalt, and wastes, manufacturing facilities, warehouses and associated distribution facilities for the food and beverage industry. Other industrial, utility and municipal uses include trucking, concrete manufacture and distribution, transportation and transportation infrastructure including rail and highways, and New York City’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Newtown Creek Brownfield Opportunity Area, a community-based economic development planning process, focuses on the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated upland properties along Newtown Creek.