EPA presents Phase I findings on Newtown Creek at CAG Meeting

by James Curcuru on

The main draw to the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting on Thursday, November 21st was a presentation by Caroline Kwan, the EPA’s project manager for the Newtown Creek Superfund site. A group of roughly 35 people were in attendance, representing a broad coalition of community members, local non-profit groups and business interests. In accordance with the CAG’s policy of alternating meetings between Brooklyn and Queens, the meeting was held in a conference room at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens.

EPA Presentation at CAG November meeting. [PDF]

EPA Presentation on Newtown Creek
Ms. Kwan was there to present data summary reports from the EPA’s Phase I investigation of the Newtown Creek Superfund site, which included extensive water, air, and sediment sampling. Among other things, the data summary reports track the occurrence of over 1600 chemicals found in the creek. It was stressed that these summary reports had not yet been interpreted or contextualized for any larger meaning, and were continually referred to as raw “data dumps.” The EPA and the contractors it employs are conducting internal evaluations of the initial data, which will then be used to guide the direction of the Phase II investigation slated to begin in the spring of next year. The full slideshow presentation is available online. [PDF].

Surface Water sampling locations in Newtown Creek – EPA Presentation. [PDF]

Following the presentation, a lengthy Q&A session was held with the EPA officials present. Citing the presentation’s lack of qualitative evaluation, some audience members expressed concern that the data summary reports were largely incomprehensible or meaningless–even to those relatively well-versed in environmental policy and scientific terminology. The EPA distributed the Phase I data summary reports to the CAG co-chairs in the form of DVD sets, which were then offered to anyone in attendance interested in them.

Other members highlighted how crucial reference or background areas are to a meaningful assessment of the creek’s contamination. Reference areas are additional sampling sites that serve as frames of reference when evaluating how abnormal or harmful the conditions at a particular site really are. The samples at the Superfund sites will be compared with water, air, and sediment conditions in other bodies of water–ranging from highly contaminated sites similar to Newtown Creek to relatively unspoiled areas. The EPA has not yet finalized its references sites, but is leaning towards bodies of water all within New York City. Ms. Kwan stressed that Newtown Creek’s contamination should be evaluated in relation to other urban waterways that have been subject to similar conditions throughout their histories.

The Newtown Creek Group: Exxon, Phelps Dodge, Texaco, BP & National Grid
Before Ms. Kwan’s presentation, the CAG meeting opened with a short video put together by the Newtown Creek Group (NGC), which represents the 5 “responsible parties”–ExxonMobil, Phelps Dodge, Texaco, BP and National Grid–cited as primary polluters of the site. This group is conducting the study and clean-up of Newtown Creek under the oversight of the EPA. They are obligated to do so by an Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent the NGC entered into with the EPA and the City of New York in July 2011. Similar to the EPA, the NGA hires contractors that must work under guidelines set by the EPA. The video, below, gives a brief overview of the cleanup process, and the progress made so far.

As mentioned above, the Newtown Creek Group and EPA both employ private contractors to carry out much of the sampling and data collection, and then draft subsequent courses of action. One such contractor, Anchor QEA, featured heavily in the NGC’s video. According to its website, Anchor QEA–a private environmental and engineering consulting firm that works in the public and private sector–is “the lead consultant providing Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) services at the Newtown Creek Superfund site.” It will continue its involvement in the Phase II investigation.

Phase II Investigation
The Phase II investigation will include the Baseline Ecological Risk Assessment (BERA) and Baseline Human Health Risk Assessment (BHHRA), which aim to determine exactly how hazardous the site’s contamination is. When the Phase II investigation is completed, all of the data from both phases will be evaluated in a remedial investigation report, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Meeting Conclusion
The meeting ended with reminders from the CAG co-chairs that the CAG Steering Committee, which guides the CAG’s agenda, would meet in December to discuss the logistics of the next general CAG meeting, which is slated for early 2014. The minutes of the meeting are available online. [PDF]

Questions, Comments, Concerns
If you have comments or questions on the EPA’s findings, research or the project, visit the EPA website or contact:

Wanda Ayala, Community Involvement Coordinator
212-637-3676, ayala.wanda@epa.gov

Caroline Kwan, Remedial Project Manager
212-637-4275, kwan.caroline@epa.gov

James Curcuru

James Curcuru

James Curcuru is a Greenpoint resident interested in the overlap between the Newtown Creek Superfund process, Newtown Creek Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA), the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) and the continuing redevelopment and demographic changes of the North Brooklyn area. He hopes to promote an awareness of and greater familiarity with the area's large array of community organizations, non-profit groups, business coalitions, and governmental agencies. He holds a B.S. degree in English from Fordham University and has taught English for the last 3 years.