According to the EPA, the Superfund is “the Federal Government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.”
Newtown Creek has long been rated by the EPA as one of the most polluted waters in the United States. Due to its convenient location, it has been utilized long before the 19th century as a major thoroughfare for industry in and around Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. However, lacking any natural waterflow – meaning that the water entering the stream has no natural paths of egress, creating within it an enormous backlog of filth stemming from general pollution due to water traffic as well as from the unregulated dumping of hazardous materials before any sort of organization existed for such regulation.
The Creek’s geographical location made it an obvious place for industry to establish itself several centuries ago, and to this day it remains as such. In 1870, Newtown Creek counted over 50 petroleum-processing plants along its banks while currently the Long Island Railroad maintains a freight line along the northern bank of the creek, while a liquid natural gas port is under construction along the south bank.
However the greatest source of pollution to the creek to this day came from the Greenpoint Oil Spill – one of the largest oil spills recorded in the history of the United States. According to Riverkeepers, the organization advocating clean-ups along all of New York’s waterways, the spill took places slowly yet consistently over the past century, in which between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil seeped from the ExxonMobile refinery along the creek across 50 acres of undeveloped land.
The spill itself wasn’t discovered until 1978 when a helicopter patrol discovered a massive plume of oil “flowing out of the banks of the creek” according to Riverkeepers. It was then that researchers discovered the full extent of the spill. And with the nature of the creek as lacking of any natural waterflow, the toxic sludge has seeped into the Creek, permeating the surrounding area with such a degree of filth that the very water is in a constant visible state of pollution.
However that is all hopefully about to change. According to the EPA, in 2010 $443 million was spent of appropriated funds to clean up currently existing Superfund sites, and their stated goal is to continue to raise that number in the future. With the new Superfund site, Newtown Creek can begin to expect substantial sums of money being spent on its renewal efforts.