On the hook for Gowanus clean up

The Brooklyn Paper
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National Grid may have some welcome company to help it foot the bill to clean the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal, this paper has learned.

Utility giant Consolidated Edison and the troubled specialty chemicals maker Chemtura Corporation have both received letters from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alerting them that they could be potentially responsible for the foul waterway’s remediation.

Letters from the EPA Region 2 Emergency and Remedial Response Division were sent out to Chemtura on July 10, and Con Ed received its letter on Aug. 6, said Beth Totman, a spokesperson for the EPA.The notice states that there is reason to believe, based on the EPA’s investigations, that the company might be a potentially responsible party if the canal is designated a Superfund site, which has not yet been decided.

The letters ask for additional information, and give each company 30 days to provide it. Under the Superfund program, a judge ultimately decide whether a company is liable, Totman said.

Con Ed spokserson Bob McGee would only confirm that the company received an EPA letter “and will respond to the letter and fully cooperate in the agency’s information-gathering efforts.”

At press time Chemtura did not respond to a call for comment. Earlier this year, Chemtura and its United States subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, facing declining order values in the wake of the global recession. In 2008, the Connecticut-based company had sales of $3.5 billion, according to its Web site.

As this paper reported in April, National Grid contended all along that it would not be alone in any clean-up scheme, as petrochemical and chemical industries have at one time found the canal’s edge a suitable home. The EPA, which sent the gas company a notice on July 10, has said publicly that National Grid was likely the single largest party responsible for cleaning the canal. The company is already working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up Public Place, a property along the canal that could one day be home to Gowanus Green, a massive housing and parks project. National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said she had nothing to add about the matter.

In 2007, National Grid bought KeySpan, formerly Brooklyn Union Gas, which operated three manufactured gas plants along the canal. The plants polluted the soil with coal tars and other hazardous materials, which over time leeched into the 1.8-mile waterway.

Totman said more companies could receive notices. “At this point we are still investigating the full package of who the potentially responsible parties could entail,” she said.

About 70 percent of Superfund sites are being cleaned up by the originators of the contamination, according to the EPA. The cost for the work has not been finalized, and the EPA could announce in mid-September whether it will designate the canal a Superfund site.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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