Feds OK city’s water quality control plan for Newtown Creek

April 14, 2021 Editorial Staff
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Super-polluted waterway was once lined with industrial plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued a “Record of Decision,” explaining that the agency has determined that the city’s Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) to improve notoriously polluted Newtown Creek’s water quality is consistent with the goals of the federal Superfund program.

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The statement focuses on the current and expected future volume of combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges into the creek. Sixty percent of New York City has a combined sewer system for rainwater, household sewage and industrial waste.

Most of the time, this wastewater is transported to a sewage treatment plans. During periods of heavy rainfall, however, the wastewater volume exceeds the system’s capacity — and untreated sewage overflows into bodies of water such as Newtown Creek.

The Long Term Control Plan, which was approved by the state in 2018, includes several components, such as construction of a CSO storage tunnel to reduce the volume of future discharges to the creek by more than 60 percent. EPA will determine in the future whether additional CSO-discharge related actions, either in the creek or in the uplands adjacent to the creek, are needed.

The Superfund program focuses on the most polluted sites, giving the EPA the authority to coordinate cleanups and forcing polluters to either perform the cleanups themselves or reimburse the federal government.

Brooklyn has two Superfund sites — Newtown Creek (on the Brooklyn-Queens border), which is regarded as one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S.; and the Gowanus Canal, which has a similar reputation.

“EPA’s Record of Decision recognizes the significant reductions in CSO discharges to Newtown Creek that will result from implementation of the Long Term Control Plan, and we have concluded that further volume reductions are not required under the Superfund program,” said EPA acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan.

The Newtown Creek Superfund Site Study Area is comprised of the water and sediment of Newtown Creek. In addition to the Superfund process, the city has been ordered by New York State to implement the aforementioned Long-Term Control Plan for the creek, under the requirements of the Clean Water Act.–>

EPA evaluated the LTCP in the context of the Superfund site to determine if the volume reductions anticipated under the LTCP are sufficient to meet the needs of the future Superfund cleanup of the Newtown Creek Superfund site.

EPA is also continuing to direct a very detailed investigation of the contamination in the creek and a study of the feasible options to address that contamination. These studies are being conducted under EPA’s oversight by a consortium of parties that are potentially responsible for the contamination.

At one time, Newtown Creek was lined with industrial plants, most of which dumped their waste directly into the creek. Among them were oil companies in Greenpoint, and on the Queens side, chemical plants and copper smelting facilities.

On Nov. 21, 2019, EPA released for public comment the proposed plan regarding this CSO discharge volume decision. During the public comment period, EPA held two public meetings to inform the public of EPA’s preferred remedial alternative and to receive public comments.

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