Assemblyman Colton Declares: “Super Cleanup Urgently Needed in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn”

Urgent federal help needed to diffuse an “environmental ticking bomb”
March 3, 2008
Citing decades of severe neglect and costly inaction, Assemblyman William Colton (D-Brooklyn) has announced that he and nationally acclaimed environmental attorney Joel Kupferman have called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare Gravesend Bay ‘Graveyard Bay,’ citing over 30 years of illegal incineration at the site of the former Southwest Brooklyn incinerator, Shore Parkway and Bay 41st Street. The incinerator was torn down in 2004 and the Sanitation Department plans to build and operate a waste transfer station at the exact site.

Both Colton and Kupferman are urging the EPA to declare the Southwest Brooklyn site a Superfund, a legal term that refers to sites that have fallen victim to environmental neglect. The Superfund program began in 1980 when Congress passed legislation authorizing the EPA to locate, investigate, and clean up the most hazardous sites nationwide.

By placing the former incinerator site on the National Priorities List and declaring it a Superfund site, the federal EPA has the authority to implement a comprehensive environmental assessment and remediation program for the environmentally sensitive area. The clean-up effort would be undertaken through a partnership between federal, state, and city agency officials working with local community organizations.

“Nothing short of an enormous environmental assessment and remediation program can help undo the damage that an illegal incinerator has done to Gravesend Bay for over 30 years,” asserted Assemblyman Colton, who has spearheaded the effort to stop the New York City Department of Sanitation’s plan to operate a waste facility at the foot of Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn. Many in the community strongly believe that harmful toxins released by the former incinerator seeped not only spewed into the air, but also seeped into the adjacent bay.

A recent study compiled by Dr. Peddrick Weis of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, confirms what Colton describes as an “environmental ticking bomb” in Gravesend Bay. Dr. Weis’ study revealed alarmingly elevated amounts of mercury and lead from surface samples taken in Gravesend Bay. In his report, Dr. Weis referred to the samples as ‘black mayonnaise” and warned the city of the dangers of dredging in the bay. Toxins dredged and dug up in the bay would be stirred like a toxic stew and pushed into neighboring bodies of water such as Coney Island beach, Lower Bay, and beyond.

Before being elected to the New York Assembly, William Colton was a pro-bono attorney in the local community’s fight to shut down the former Southwest Brooklyn incinerator. Colton recalls that for over 30 years, the Sanitation Department never obtained a legal permit to operate the incinerator and therefore never conducted vital environmental impact reviews.

“The city felt that they did not have to study what impacts the incinerator would have on the general public and the environment. The consequences of 30 years worth of illegal incineration at the site are still unfolding in the form of increased cancer rates, respiratory ailments, and environmental hazards in Gravesend Bay,” said Colton. “Now the city wants us to believe that a plan to repeatedly dredge in this same bay to operate a waste dump would have no significant impact. Honesty is not the city’s strong suit,” declared the impassioned legislator.

Joel Kupferman, a nationally acclaimed attorney with the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, won nationwide recognition for his historic efforts in exposing deadly misinformation released by the federal government concerning the safety of Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. When officials declared the site safe to work on, Kupferman led the legal effort to show otherwise and won in federal court. He has joined Assemblyman Colton’s anti-waste station task force in hopes of protecting one of the most precious fish and bird wildlife sanctuaries in New York City in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn.

The latest front opened by Colton comes on the heels of an enormous New York State Department of Environmental Conservation public hearing in which over 1,000 residents showed up to voice their strong opposition to the proposed Southwest Brooklyn waste transfer station. Additionally, it was recently reported that World War II era explosives capsized off the USS Bennington in Gravesend Bay in 1954. The Defense Department is conducting an investigation to account for the missing explosives still believed to be buried in Gravesend Bay.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also compiled data that reveals over 84 hazardous toxic, chemical, and diesel fuel spills in Gravesend Bay. Toxic Targeting, an environmental watchdog group has insisted that the groundwater in Gravesend Bay is contaminated and poses serious risks to the environment and general public.

Both Colton and Kupferman have also signaled that they are prepared to take the fight to court to protect the health, environment, and quality of life of residents living in Southwest Brooklyn.