Make Queens toxic again? EPA cuts could slow cleanups in Ridgewood and at Newtown Creek

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If President Donald Trump gets its way, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget would be slashed on an enormous scale — and that could threaten the ongoing work to clean up several toxic sites in Queens and Brooklyn.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Tuesday that the proposed 43 percent reduction in funding for the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program would directly affect work at Superfund sites in both boroughs including the Newtown Creek on the Queens/Brooklyn border.

The industrial waterway is considered one of the most polluted in the country, laden with chemicals, raw sewage and oil that seeped into it from a massive oil slick beneath the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The EPA declared the Newtown Creek a Superfund site in 2010, opening up federal resources toward ongoing efforts to remove toxins from the water and restore aquatic life.

Another Superfund site potentially at risk as a result of the proposed EPA cuts is the ongoing cleanup at the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company located on Irving Avenue near Cooper Avenue in Ridgewood. Radioactivity was detected inside the building and nearby catch basins as a result of radioactive materials being processed and dumped at the location many decades ago. It became a Superfund site in 2014.

According to Schneiderman, the proposed Superfund cuts could potentially force layoffs at the EPA that would “undermine the agency’s ability to perform vital oversight and management of cleanups.” The lack of manpower would slow or halt ongoing cleanup efforts at 85 Superfund sites across New York state.

Schneiderman is also concerned about a proposed 30 percent reduction in the EPA’s enforcement and compliance budget which may inhibit the agency’s ability to enforce mandates made to local governments and, in certain matters, corporations found to have violated regulations.

“Decades of hard work have helped clean up New York’s air, water and environment. But President Trump’s budget threatens to unravel those gains and send us back to the bad old days of choking smog and rampant pollution,” Schneiderman said on March 21. “As we’ve made clear, if the Trump administration won’t meet its legal obligations to ensure basic access to a clean, safe and healthy environment, we won’t hesitate to act to protect New Yorkers.”

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s district includes both the Newtown Creek and Wolff-Alport site, as well as the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn — another Superfund site with a notoriously ghastly history of pollution.

“Slashing these programs will be devastating for our nation, our city and the public health,” Velazquez added. “We must speak with one voice in collectively opposing the Trump budget’s deep cuts to our nation’s foremost environmental agency.”

Schneiderman said he has written to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney expressing his concern about the proposed cuts.

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