“I’m gonna keep you alive, I promise!” says Mai Armstrong, member of Newtown Creek Alliance.
It’s Saturday morning – a scorcher, by the way – and a group of 31 culture enthusiasts from all over New York have assembled by St Anthony’s Church for a free two-hour guided walk of Newtown Creek (and environs) as part of Jane’s Walk NYC. One woman, an ex-resident, has brought her two daughters from Manhattan to check out the old ‘hood. It’s a beautiful day, and we bristle with anticipation. Continue reading →
Thanks to Newtown Creek Alliance and North Brooklyn Boat Club for organizing this fun canoe trip on the Newtown Creek. While nature in the way of lush forests and crystal clear running streams is far from the scenery along this industrial waterway, “nature has returned to the creek,” our guides explained, which is a good sign.
Among the many birds we spotted were cormorants, swallows, cardinals, a great egret, an entire flocks of cormorants, a catbird and a few geese who were demonstrating a curious behavior of swimming along the creek’s edge with their necks down low on the water.
We were very excited to also see blue crabs, oysters, small fish and jelly fish!
I won’t say it didn’t smell, in some parts worse than others. Mostly they were industrial gas and crude oil smells. There was a lot of garbage floating, capri sun containers, potato chips bags, tampons, and I won’t say that I didn’t cringe every time even the most minuscule drop splashed on my arm or even worse right near my lips.
When I asked Jens of NBBC what would be the protocol if someone fell in and swallowed a mouthful of water, he said he would recommend getting a Hepatitis test since the biggest pollutant on the creek nowadays is human excrement.
The most striking feature of the tour was when we canoed up to a partition between the creek and a combined sewage overflow, CSO area. That is where rainwater mixed with sewage from the treatment plant overflows after heavy rain. The water on our side of the partition was very clear, protected from – wait for it – “floatables.” On the other side, where an unknowing egret was hunting, was thick putrid sludge leading from the huge overflow pipe.
When we returned to the boat club dock I was never so excited to wash my hands, especially the spot of water that turned brown on my arm.
Canoeing up the creek is something that everyone should experience, at least once. If not for the birds – for the reality check. Modern conveniences like toilets and sanitation make us forget the impact we have on our own environment. While the creek is on its way to becoming a less vile place, it’s still the toilet of NYC, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it, especially since it is becoming a viable place for our own native fauna.
Bonus:Laura Hoffman, locally famous environmental hero for Greenpoint, who was a plaintiff in a 2004 lawsuit against ExxonMobil for contamination of Greenpoint and the Newtown Creek that won $19million for an environmental projects fund, was on the same canoe trip! I was honored to finally meet her.
With the summer months ahead and significant increase in pedestrian traffic to and from the East River Ferry and Transmitter Park, many Greenpointers are complaining that the Greenpoint Waterfront is filthy. They want the city to put more garbage cans in pedestrian areas and clean up more thoroughly and more often. The Change.org campaign reads:
The streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn are disgusting, smeared with dog feces and full of garbage. THERE ARE NO GARBAGE CANS in the area. There does not seem to be regular street cleaning despite the street cleaning signs that indicate street cleaning times.
With the growth of the residential developments, businesses moving in (Kickstarter), the East River Ferry nearby and the opening of Transmitter Park, the neighborhood has experienced a significant increase in pedestrian traffic.
Over the past year, residents in our neighborhood have submitted multiple online requests for garbage cans via the Department of Sanitation’s website to no avail. Despite numerous requests by residents, the Department of Sanitation has simply ignored these requests and nothing has been done to rectify the situation.
All individuals signing below are petitioning the NYC Department of Sanitation to provide public garbage cans at all intersections of West Street between Greenpoint Ave and India Street as well as Franklin Street intersections between Greenpoint Ave and India Street. Additionally, the NYC Department of Sanitation should regularly dispose of the garbage in the public garbage cans and provide regular street cleaning to all named streets and surrounding areas.
Two new articles about gentrification and environmental activism in Greenpoint, appearing in The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, argue that the neighborhood is challenging the typical narrative that gentrifying neighborhoods will inevitably force out all long-term residents to make way for a gold coast of newly arriving gentrifiers.
The articles, by Winifred Curran (Department of Geography, DePaul University) and Trina Hamilton (Department of Geography, SUNY University at Buffalo) advocates a “just green enough” idea that “makes room for continued industrial use and blue-collar work, where cleanup does not automatically or exclusively lead to the ‘parks, cafes, and a riverwalk’ model of a green city.”
“Just green enough” coincides with “just clean enough,” wherein “as much of the environmental hazard as possible is removed in order to assure community health while still allowing for industrial uses on the waterfront for the explicit purpose of maintaining the area’s working-class population.” Continue reading →
Do you find it ironic that Greenpoint features the environmentally friendly Rooftop Farms, the new McGolrick Park Farmers Market, a Clean Green Dry Cleaners on Nassau Ave, among many other “green” initiatives? Are you confused that the Earth Day Celebration in McCarren Park is sponsored by Exxon Mobil?
It seems contradictory to be living in a very toxic place and at the same time celebrate so many eco-friendly things. It’s like eating organic kale in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other hand.
So what is the point?
The point is, we live here and we love it! And we can’t just give up on Greenpoint. Generations ahead of us will call this place home and it’s important we make sure it is cleaner and healthier for them and safe for us in the meantime.
Instead of being cynical about all of these exciting “green” developments in the community, embrace them and look at them as steps towards cleaning up Greenpoint.
A very important panel discussion called Is Greenpoint Safe? was held at Anella recently. Organizers created this important document to help you become more informed and understand how you can get involved, get educated and get Greenpoint on the right track.
A few important things to note: The Newtown Creek is a Superfund Site, if you live above or near the Meeker Ave plumes it’s important to get your home tested right away for harmful fumes, oil spills and bad odors are cause for action, houseplants can help improve air quality in your home, eating food from your garden may be contaminated with lead or other toxic chemical so test the soil, and composting, limiting the use of harmful cleaners in your home and adopting a tree are all ways you can directly act towards making Greenpoint a cleaner and healthier place.
Please discuss and share this information with friends and neighbors.
I certainly do. Our North Brooklyn Boat Club is out there paddling on the Newtown Creek. I saw a man on the India St pier this morning fishing for Striped Bass. Doesn’t he know it is unsafe to eat fish caught out of East River? Many Greenpointers are still in the dark about the toxicity of the Newtown Creek, the harmful Meeker Ave Plumes and the garbage processing stations near the homes of residents. Here’s another one for you. Did you know that public wastewater treatment plants can dump sewage into our waterways and not tell us about it? But if you click here and take a minute to fill out a form by June 21st that urges lawmakers to pass a new bill called the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, then local media outlets like this one will be informed of when and where sewage is dumped into our waterways and can pass the information on to you. This is important!
Oil spill? Toxins? Plumes? Is Greenpoint safe? If you live or work here, you should be concerned about how your health is affected by these big problems. Please come and learn about the history behind our neighborhood’s toxic legacy and how it can be cleaned up. This important topic will be the focus of a discussion on Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 7pm in Anella’s backyard (222 Franklin St), in a panel moderated by Cara Canella of Speak Easy Series. Panelists include Kate Zidar of Newtown Creek Alliance, Laura Hoffman of O.U.T.R.A.G.E. (Organizations United for Trash Reduction and Garbage Equity), Mike Schade of Center for Health & Environmental Justice. RSVP: lincoln (at) lincolnrestler.org.
These guys: (left to right) Rowland and Joe’s appropriately named canoe “Shart Attack” embarked from the Sewage Treatment Plant Nature Walk yesterday. The canoe was quite a looker on Driggs as they gave it a good scrub down. We couldn’t help but take a step back when they told us it just came out of the Newtown Creek. Rowland assured us it was a great ride and the water doesn’t look dirty. And, there were signs of life, fish, mussels, clams, ducks and cormorants.
“Did you wear life jackets?”
“Did you wash your hands yet?”
“Not yet,” Joe said as he puffed a smoke.
But, just because it’s contaminated doesn’t mean we should give up on the Newtown Creek. As my Mom says, “use it or lose it!” The more we get out there and the more awareness we bring to the problems, the better chance we have of revitalizing the creek.
Compost rules! And now it needs to be ruled. Become a compost master! The North Brooklyn Compost Project can help you reach this goal. The certificate program is designed to promote the practice of urban composting. You get 25 hours of classroom training (including two field trips) and 30 hours of volunteer outreach service in compost education and promotion. Application due: February 17, 2012.
The NBCP says: “Composting is an important alternative to garbage export. Currently, our waste is trucked around the city and exported for landfill or incineration in New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and so on. The impacts of dealing with garbage this way are felt in communities who live all along these truck routes, transfer stations and disposal sites. Public money is thrown away on polluting the air and wearing down the roads to export thousands of tons of compostable material each day In New York City.
We think it’s a waste, because we know that by composting you get a very valuable product, and spare these negative impacts!
As a soil amendment, compost increases nutrition and moisture available to plants and animals living in the soil. Composting reduces the use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers, helps conserve water, filters pollutants from water, improves soil structure, increases water-holding capacity, and improves disease resistance in plants.”
There are two enormous spills beneath the northeastern-most pocket of Greenpoint: the Greenpoint Oil Spill, and the Meeker Avenue Plumes. Exxon Mobile has been working on the cleanup of the spill since 1991, with a seemingly endless patience.
The plumes, however, are just hanging out in two pools beneath the neighborhood, inching towards Newtown Creek. The oil spill floats atop the aquifer beneath the neighborhood, the plumes lie beneath it.
The plumes are the accumulation of chlorinated solvents – tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) – which are used in dry-cleaning and cleaning metals. These solvents were spilled or dumped into the ground of Greenpoint for many years, the biggest historical offenders including Acme Architectural Products, Spic and Span Cleaners and Klink Cosmo Cleaners.
Last week the EPA released a report stating that TCE is a ‘carcinogen to humans.’ As explained by those who read more EPA literature than I, the big deal is that the last time the EPA said much of anything about TCE was in 1987, when they stated that TCE was a ‘probable’ carcinogen. In addition, it also is a ‘human noncancer health hazard.’ Double yikes.
Paul Anastas, of the EPA, promoted the findings as ‘an important first step, providing valuable information to the state, local and federal agencies responsible for the health of the American people.’
‘TCE’s movement from contaminated ground water and soil, into the indoor air of overlying buildings, is of serious concern,’ the EPA stated.
According to the EPA, there are 761 Superfund sites nationwide that are contaminated with TCE.
Many people in Greenpoint have had the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) come by to install vents that trap and release these vapors into the outside air, instead of allowing them to move around inside a house. Many have not.
Dangerous vapors can intrude a home without being seen or smelled by residents. Greenpointers interested in having their homes tested for vapor intrustion can contact the DEC.