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EPA to study Newtown Creek spill

The House of Representatives approved a measure last week that would require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to conduct its own independent study of the massive oil spill at Newtown Creek, an EPA spokeswoman said.

The House of Representatives voted last Thursday for the EPA to conduct its own study of the creek in which the agency would collect and analyze its own evidence, the EPA spokeswoman said. The measure would still need to go before the U.S. Senate or President George W. Bush, she said.

The EPA would need to release a report on its study within one year after the legislation becomes official, she said.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) said the measure could speed up the rate of recovery at the creek and under the ground in Brooklyn, where several major oil companies have been removing petroleum.

"We must help give this important waterway safely back to the community for its use and enjoyment," Velazquez said. "I am deeply concerned about what threat this material poses to the public."

The measure, included in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, also requires the EPA to determine the extent of the damage caused by the spill, Velazquez said.

"If enacted, the study would go a long way toward telling us where the spill is and how big it is," said Basil Seggos, chief investigator for Tarrytown-based environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper, which has conducted its own studies of the creek and filed two lawsuits against Exxon for its role in the spill.

The EPA released an 85-page report last fall which reviewed studies of the spill by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation and the Coast Guard. That study estimated that the spill could be anywhere between 17 million and 30 million gallons.

The Newtown Creek spill, discovered by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter patrol in 1978, is believed to have started anywhere from 50 to 100 years ago along the bank of the waterway, where Standard Oil once operated a massive oil refinery. ExxonMobil, Standard's descendant, entered into two consent orders in 1990 with the DEC to remove petroleum from the ground underneath Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

In early April, Exxon was granted a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that would limit the amount of water and pollutants that can be discharged during its recovery effort as well as set monitoring and reporting requirements for the company. An Exxon spokesman said 9.5 million gallons of oil have been recovered to date.

Several other oil companies, including BP and Chevron, are also responsible for assisting in the recovery of oil from the waterway.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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