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Newtown Creek spill was twice as big as reported

A recent study of the nation’s largest oil spill found that the amount of oil dumped into the Newtown Creek could be nearly double the volume than originally estimated.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that the amount of oil recovered from the ExxonMobil spill could be overestimated and that officials should continue to study the effects to ensure that the health of local residents is not at risk.
The 85-page findings, released by the EPA on Wednesday, September 12, included several recommendations like increased recovery efforts and additional observation of the area, which spans the Queens-Brooklyn border.
To conduct the study, the EPA reviewed raw data from all prior tests of Newtown Creek going back to the initial discovery of the spill in 1978 and coordinated with state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Attorney General’s Office, and the New York Department of Health.
Originally, the size of the spill was estimated at 17 million gallons - six million gallons larger than 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska - by a 1979 Coast Guard report, but officials now guess that that amount could have been as much as 30 million gallons, based on the current size of the oil plume underneath the creek and surrounding soil.
While EPA officials said that the spill has been somewhat contained so far, seepage continues into the 3.5-mile Newtown Creek. Oil has been found across 55 acres, an area spanning the creek and into the surrounding area of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In addition, a DEC report in 2006 found elevated levels of cancer-causing benzene and methane gas near homes in Greenpoint on the creek’s southwest border.
The vapors from the spill could be the biggest health threat to local residents and workers, the report states. So far, the Queens neighborhoods of Maspeth, Hunters Point and Dutch Kills, which border the creek to the east, have not undergone testing like that done in Brooklyn.
Although contaminants are less likely to seep into the Queens because the spill occurred on the Brooklyn side, oil and other materials could have breached the borough’s borders over the past three decades, an official from a waterway watchdog group said recently.
City Councilmember Eric Gioia, one of the first politicians to become involved in the issue after the advocacy group Riverkeeper filed suit against the oil giant in 2004, called for further investigation into the extent of the spill’s effects.
“The next question that I’m terribly afraid to answer is, has this spill caused health problems for the people from Brooklyn?” Gioia said. In Queens, he said, the spill has taken the waterfront away from borough residents.
In addition, the EPA report created additional questions about the scope of the spill, called for additional studies, and recommended a larger and more advanced cleanup effort.
The report states that only the southern spill border is stable, while the other borders appear to have become larger or expanded from original estimations.
To date, an estimated 8.8 millions gallons of oil have been removed, a figure that the EPA said could be overestimated, and oil not from the spill is polluting the waterway. ExxonMobil has said that the cleanup will take at least 25 years.
In 1990, ExxonMobil pledged to clean the creek, but Senator Charles Schumer and Representatives Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velzquez charged that the company’s efforts have been sluggish.
“While the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities, the health and safety of Newtown Creek’s residents hang in the balance,” Weiner said. “Finally, the public has gotten some answers to its questions about the effects this oil spill … but they deserve more. We will not stop pressing the issue until residents are fully informed of all the health risks and the remediation process has been expedited.”
The study, which took the EPA a year to complete, was paid for through the Oil Spill Liability Fund, which big oil companies must make contributions to for every barrel of oil sold in the nation.

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