An area of industrial buildings along Newtown Creek.The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday it had designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site, promising a thorough environmental cleanup and a comprehensive evaluation to identify continuing sources of pollution. (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
The Superfund designation, which was announced on Monday by the agency’s regional administrator in New York, Judith Enck, means that the E.P.A. will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the severely polluted creek to determine what kind of cleanup is needed and to identify continuing sources of pollution. Community advocates, environmental groups and members of Congress had long sought the designation out of concern about the extent of contamination and its possible danger to residents.
The creek, about four miles long, is now the second active Superfund site in the city. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, another waterway suffering the consequences of its industrial past, was placed in March on the Superfund’s National Priorities List, a designation reserved for the worst-contaminated sites in the nation.
Six other Superfund sites across the country were also chosen on Monday, including a section of the Black River in Jefferson County, N.Y., that was contaminated with P.C.B.’s and other chemicals. P.C.B.’s, or polychlorinated biphenyls, can cause cancer and affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems, according to the E.P.A.
“Newtown Creek is a key urban waterway, which provides recreational and economic resources to many communities,” Ms. Enck said in a written statement. “Throughout the investigation and cleanup, we will work closely with the communities along the creek to achieve a revitalization of this heavily contaminated urban waterway.”
Water samples from Newtown Creek, a branch of the East River and part of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, have revealed the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, P.C.B.’s, volatile organic compounds and other contaminants. Despite the continuing pollution problems, the agency noted, residents use the creek for recreation like kayaking and fishing, and some eat the fish they catch.
The creek’s polluted condition also reflects countless oil spills from the dozens of refineries and fuel storage centers that have operated along its banks since the 19th century.