Dead Horse Bay Environmental Cleanup Project

Site Background

The Dead Horse Bay Site (Site) is an approximately 178-acre area of NPS-managed land along the Atlantic Ocean’s Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, New York, and is part of the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area. The Site consists of two areas, north and south. The northern area is mostly undeveloped and developed parkland. NPS concessions/leaseholders located in the northern/developed area include the Aviator Golf Center and Moonbeam Gateway Marina. The southern portion of the Site is undeveloped parkland with several trails. The trails generally lead to a beach area known as “Glass Bottle Beach.”

The southern area of the Site (including a portion of Dead Horse Bay) was filled in by the City of New York (City) between 1948 and the mid-1950s. The fill was described as “great mounds of garbage from Queens and Brooklyn flattened into compact layers with sand carpeting 1 to 2 feet thick.” In 1955, the fill was mounded up to an elevation of 25 feet. Waste materials deposited within the southern portion of the Site that are currently eroding out of the bank along the shoreline include a great number of bottles, ceramics, clothing, metal, and other refuse. Filling of the northern portion of the Site is believed to have occurred during the 1950s in connection with the construction of the City’s Marine Park.

CERCLA and NPS Authority

NPS is authorized under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to respond as the Lead Agency to a release or threatened release of harmful substances and/or a release of any pollutant or contaminant that may present an imminent and substantial danger to public health or welfare on or from land under the jurisdiction, custody or control of NPS.


Previous Environmental Investigations

Environmental investigations were conducted at the Site by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in 2002 as part of planning for a possible habitat restoration project. Chemical contaminants were identified in Site soils, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and various metals. Based on previous investigations conducted by USACE and a waste filling history similar to two other Gateway CERCLA Sites, NPS conducted preliminary investigations in 2019 under the authority of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensations, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (commonly known as the Superfund). The investigations included gamma walkover surveys focused on trails and portions of beach areas in both the southern and northern portions of the Site. The gamma walkover survey identified 31 locations where gamma radiation was in excess of the ambient level. Nine areas at locations on the southern area beach and trails were identified for follow up intrusive investigation to evaluate the source of the radiological readings. Man-made radioluminescence articles containing radium-226 (i.e., deck markers) were identified and removed for off-site disposal at two locations in the southern portion of the Site: one on the beach and the second on a trail. The presence of the deck markers indicates that radioactive waste materials are likely associated with waste fill present on-Site and in waste fill potentially being released onto the southern beach area. Laboratory results from soils surrounding each of the deck markers indicated that the deck markers had leaked, resulting in radiological contamination of surrounding soils to a depth of approximately 2 feet at both locations.

A visitor potentially could be exposed to radiological contamination or man-made radiological articles either from unauthorized digging and surfacing a deck marker or other man-made radiological article (with the aid of a metal detector) and/or from an article that may become exposed along the shoreline. Because of potential exposure to radiological contamination in the area from unauthorized digging or removal of items, the the southern portion of the Site (approximately 84 acres) currently is closed to visitors until NPS conducts an investigation under CERCLA.

Next Steps

NPS is currently in the planning stages of a CERCLA Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) for this Site. The RI is a comprehensive investigation often conducted over multiple phases that will include sampling of environmental media (e.g., soil, sediment, groundwater) to fully characterize Site contamination. The results presented in the RI Report will provide the foundation for how NPS will evaluate cleanup alternatives in the FS Report to ensure Site conditions are protective of human health and the environment and allow for the continued use of Dead Horse Bay by the community once the remediation is completed. NPS will then develop a Proposed Plan for public review and comment, which will outline the preferred cleanup option identified for the Site. Public feedback will be sought and considered prior to finalization of the Proposed Plan, which will be documented in the Site Record of Decision (ROD). Once the ROD is finalized, NPS will prepare the Remedial Design and commence Remedial Action in all areas of the Dead Horse Bay Site determined to require cleanup.

Community Involvement

Community Involvement is a very important aspect of the CERCLA process. Community involvement ensures that the members of the public affected by a site undergoing investigation and cleanup under CERCLA, such as the Dead Horse Bay Site, have a say in the process, a right-to-know what the agency --NPS-- is doing to address the contamination, and provide input into the decision-making process. Early and meaningful communication with affected community members is the goal of the community involvement process, which occurs throughout the lifecycle of the CERCLA process.

The Community Involvement Plan (CIP) is a resource to enable meaningful community involvement. It serves as a guide for the NPS to inform and engage community members, government officials, the media, and other interested parties in the environmental investigation and cleanup activities at a site. As such, it is a living document that is updated and revised, as appropriate, as site conditions and events change. The ways in which the NPS encourages communication with the public are described in detail in the CIP.

Community involvement activities at the Site commenced in the summer of 2020 through a news release. NPS will conduct direct public outreach, including public meetings and information sessions as well as providing updates at local Community Board meetings.
Prior to implementation of RI field investigation activities, NPS will issue a CIP and establish the Administrative Record file for the Site. The Administrative Record file will contain the CIP and other documents and information relied upon during selection of the response action.

As the Site investigation and cleanup proceeds pursuant to CERCLA, there will be more opportunities for you to be involved in the process and provide input. In lieu of formal public meetings, you can obtain information and ask questions in a variety of ways.

To stay informed you can:

  • sign up to receive project updates via e-mail. E-mail us to sign up.

  • E-mail us questions at any time.

  • call the NPS Public Affairs Office at 917-282-9393.

  • Visit our FAQ page.

Last updated: November 12, 2021

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