Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New EPA Study on ExxonMobil Newtown Creek Oil Spill-September 21, 2007

To anyone who lives in Greenpoint, the Exxon-Mobil oil spill of 1950 is old news. What you might not know is that the spill is much larger and far more damaging than earlier established estimates. According to a study compiled by a team of United States Environmental Protection Agency biologists, engineers, hydrogeologists, geologists, risk assessors, attorneys and EPA contractor geologists and engineers, the spill could be twice as big as originally thought and leaking toxic vapors into Greenpoint residences. City Councilman David Yassky called the report "a searing indictment of ExxonMobil's complete failure to clean up the toxic mess they created."
"The ugly truth is that an estimated cleanup at this rate won't be completed until 2026; the ugly truth is that homes in this area are without a doubt being impacted by this spill," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, who commissioned the report along with Rep. Nydia Velazquez.
Greenpoint has been heavily industrialized and the site of various petroleum industries for more than 140 years. Large quantity petroleum storage and refining began in the 1860s. By1870 more than 50 refineries were located along the banks of Newtown Creek. This tidal-area of salt marshes along the creek was severely impacted and saturated by the waste discharges of the industries and refineries in the area.
The first signs of an oil spill entering Newtown Creek were detected by the U. S. Coast Guard in 1978. A subsequent investigation concluded that the area of the spill under the Greenpoint area was in excess of 52 acres. The total spill volume, as estimated in 1979, was approximately 17 million gallons (Mgal) of petroleum product. New studies suggest the amount of spillage is closer to 30 million gallons.
The study also showed high levels of hazardous methane gas were found during vapor samplings at nearby commercial establishments. A sampling of 45 properties in the spill zone found "chemicals were detected at all locations in each home, but not in a pattern that would typically represent a vapor-intrusion phenomenon."
"This report confirms what we have been saying all along," said Basil Seggos of the Riverkeeper organization, which has been at the forefront of the fight in the cleanup effort. In July, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued ExxonMobil over the lack of action in the cleanup effort. Homeowners have also filed two class-action suits, and another suit has been brought by Riverkeeper. The report is expected to bolster the suits.
"We recognize that there is more to be done there, but we have to also recognize that significant progress has been made," oil company spokesman Barry Wood told the New York Daily News. "ExxonMobil has accepted responsibility and we're going to be in Greenpoint until the job is done and the job is done right."
The report called for more studies to be done to gather more information and discover the best strategies to complete the cleanup. The EPA study asked more questions than it answered, but if nothing else, it is drawing more attention to the issue, increasing the scrutiny from the public eye. While it is encouraging to see local politicians commission a study to gather information and make recommendations, talk is cheap. This problem has been around for decades, and like my father always told me, actions speak louder than words.

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