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Reps applaud EPA’s Newtown Creek study

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U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) praised the federal Environmental Protection Agency for committing to an analysis of four sites at Newtown Creek to determine if the waterway should be designated a Superfund area.

In an Aug. 15 letter to the elected officials, the agency agreed to examine existing data on the four sites and fill in any missing information required to consider whether the sites should enter the Superfund program, which would allow the government to subsidize up to 90 percent of the clean-up expenses.

"The commitment made by the EPA to test the sites is a big win for Newtown Creek residents," Weiner said. "These tests will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill's health and environmental risks, giving this environmental disaster the national attention it deserves."

Weiner and Velazquez wrote a letter to the EPA in July identifying the four priority sites: two former hazardous waste facilities, a former copper smelting plant and a former coal gasification complex.

Oil refineries once lined the banks of the creek, which separates western Queens from Brooklyn. It is notorious for being the site of a massive oil spill believed to have started anywhere from 50 to 100 years ago. It was discovered by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter in 1978 along the bank where Standard Oil once operated a refinery.

A 2007 study by the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimated the spill's size at between 17 million and 30 million gallons. A federal EPA study of the spill will be released next year.

ExxonMobil, Standard Oil's descendant, agreed to remove petroleum from the ground underneath Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 1990.

Velazquez criticized the oil giant for being slow to respond.

"The residents around Newtown Creek have had to live with the consequences of this spill for years while the oil companies have lagged in their clean-up responsibilities," she said. "The EPA should begin to quickly review these sites and not delay in designating Superfund status to begin remediation."

Exxon has removed more than 9.5 million gallons of oil from the site so far, a spokesman, said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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