Even after an underground explosion in 1950 which was created by an accumulation of oil and gas, in combination with local health problems in the creek area that persisted, officials didn’t recognize that they even had a problem until 1978. During the summer of 1978, a routine patrol by a Coast Guard chopper identified a huge black oil plume coming from the side of Newton Creek and heading towards New York Harbor via the East River. Officials set out and placed a containment boom which netter 200k gallons of degraded gas, fuel oil, as well as other toxic chemicals, some dating back to 1948. The estimates from this long-term disaster range from 17 to 30 million gallons or 400 to 710 thousand barrels, however that does not include all the accompanying amounts of other toxins released like benzene and such.
Now there can be seen a viscous hydrocarbon rainbow sheen that floats on the creeks surface, accompanied by a hydrocarbon aroma. The Greenpoint are of Brooklyn has a lower overall cancer rate than other areas of Brooklyn, but ranks highest for types of cancer like child leukemia and stomach cancer in adults. In 2009 Newton Creek was finally designated as a superfund site. The Brooklyn-Queens aquifer which was once a valued source of fresh drinking water has been rendered useless by the toxins. It is now undrinkable in any form. That aquifer also serves as a recharge zone for groundwater resources in southeastern Queens which could give a backup supply to the city in the event of a drought.Local environmental activists have discovered important documents that confirm a history of government regulators looking the other way to protect oil companies from liability for poisoning the creek. Pressure from citizens’ groups and city and state lawsuits have fortunately rewarded locals with a certain amount of compensation from BP, ExxonMobil and other companies accused of being behind the long-term spillage. A federal jury found ExxonMobil liable for contaminating the groundwater near the creek, giving the city a $104.7 million award in 2009.
That is not anywhere near enough money to clean up the site or to compensate the local Greenpoint residents. Nor is the Superfund designation likely to bring immediate improvement in the creek: years of study will be needed before any action can be taken, and the Superfund money can be used only to remove toxic material from the shore and sediments; other water-quality problems aren’t eligible. In the long run, the only real solution may be to excavate the entire polluted zone and replace it with clean fill.
President Obama condemned the “cozy relationship” between federal regulators and Big Oil, but shouldn’t we also question why some New York regulators and the companies charged with polluting Newton Creek took so long to acknowledge that there was even a problem? I bet I have an answer to that question though, and that is GR$$D.
We could go on and on, as the list is quite large, but we will be adding more as time permits. So in closing today, this wraps up our special on man made disasters part 4: Oil Spills – Worst Oil Spills list.
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