Newtown Creek environmental activist questions allegations of NYCDEP violations

A 2013 aerial photograph of Newtown Creek. Source : CC BY-SA 2.0 Joe Mabel/Wikipedia

A 2013 aerial photograph of Newtown Creek. Source : CC BY-SA 2.0 Joe Mabel/Wikipedia

By LOUIS FLORES

Updated 17 October 2016 08:20 ⎪ Within weeks after Progress Queens published a report about allegations made by employees of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, that the Municipal water authority was fabricating compliance with the Clean Water Act, an environmental activist began to question the allegations.

The activist, Sarah Durand, contacted Progress Queens by e-mail to communicate that the allegations being made by DEP employees were "a hoax" that fit into the strategy of corporations that are allegedly responsible for the pollution of Newtown Creek. Ms. Durand did not provide any independent proof to support her assertion that the allegations of the DEP employees were false.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways."

However, to support her contention, Ms. Durand, an assistant professor at LaGuardia Community College, attached a copy of an e-mail she sent to a distribution list of an environmental group. In the attached e-mail, Ms. Durand argued that allegations were being made that the DEP was falsifying compliance with the Clean Water Act in order to allegedly discredit DEP. According to Ms. Durand's e-mail, a discredited DEP would weaken efforts to hold the corporations allegedly responsible for the pollution of Newtown Creek.

In the time after Ms. Durand sent her initial e-mail to Progress Queens, it has not been possible to schedule an interview with Ms. Durand. Another member of the environmental group, of which Ms. Durand identified herself as a member of the group's steering committee, the Newtown Creek Superfund Community Advisory Group, did not answer an e-mail requesting an interview for this report.

Amongst the allegations made by DEP employees is that a water-testing logbook used by a Newtown Creek laboratory had been altered, according to information provided by the law firm representing the DEP employees. It was not possible to arrange an interview with the attorney representing the DEP employees for this report.

The law firm representing the DEP has filed notices of claims with Municipal, State, and Federal authorities, indicating that potential litigation may be commenced against the City over retaliation allegedly faced by DEP employees, who blew the whistle on the alleged falsified compliance. If litigation is commenced, then the DEP employees will be given an opportunity to prove their allegations in a Court of law.

Before the making of the current allegations of falsified compliance and whistleblower retaliation at DEP, the Municipal water authority had been fined and had pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, according to a report filed by the journalist Celeste Katz for The New York Daily News. At that time then, DEP employees had similarly claimed that DEP had been retaliating against whistleblowers. As a consequence of the guilty pleas, between 2001 and 2009, DEP was subject to supervision by a Federal monitor due to the environmental violations.

It is not known whether City water officials are aware that alleged DEP actions to falsify compliance with the Clean Water Act may be undermining efforts to hold accountable corporations allegedly responsible for the pollution of Newtown Creek.

The press office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) did not answer a request for an interview for this report. In the past, the mayor's press office has not answered requests for interviews about the current allegations being made by DEP employees.

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