Newtown Nature Walk Kayak Launch

New York Magazine recently updated an article about the threat Hurricane Sandy poses to areas with toxic waterways like Gowanus:

dome of water would travel from Upper New York Bay, through Gowanus Harbor, and into the 1.5-mile-long Gowanus Canal near Smith and 9th Street. Once in the canal, it could stir up a heady mix of pollutants — essentially oil, heavy metals, and human excrement — and distribute it throughout the slowly gentrifying area that sits among some of Brownstone Brooklyn’s priciest neighborhoods.

Kingsland Ave Near Sewage Treatment Plant © Newtown Creek Alliance

What about Greenpoint? We have our own toxic waterway to deal with, literally a toxic creek with a sewage treatment facility on it. The photos of Newtown Creek and near the sewage treatment plant have been alarming.

The creek is overflowing and sewage is being released into the waterway, according to Stephen Levin. How will the toxic nature of the waterway affect local residents? And what is the city doing about it?

Topped Bulkhead In Greenpoint © Newtown Creek Alliance

We spoke to Kate Zidar at Newtown Creek Alliance who said:


In addition to the known water quality issues on the Creek, there are dozens of brownfields, known plumes (Meeker Ave, Greenpoint Oil), State Superfund, Toxic Release Inventory sites, clustered in the flood plain of Newtown Creek. Your concerns are valid. The area lacks public infrastructure such as flood gates, that would help protect against soaking and mobilizing hazardous material – not to mention protect valuable creek front businesses that perform essential city services!

Of course we (not Kate Zidar) only think about these things when a huge storm is bearing down on us, residents are evacuating, and the water levels are surging. But now is a better time than any to raise awareness of these potentially hazardous situations.

In terms of the sewage treatment plant in Greenpoint, what happens when there is too much rain and flooding? It’s called a CSO (Combined Sewage Overflow). Rainwater and sewage, among other things (see below) are released into the local waterways.

That’s pretty disturbing, especially since the river is flooding our streets in Zone A. So all those metals, human waste and disease that may back up into the river, might end up on our sidewalks and in residents’ flooded basements.

According to Riverkeeper,

CSOs contain raw sewage from homes, businesses and industries, as well as stormwater runoff and all the debris and chemicals that wash off the street or are poured in storm drains. This toxic brew can be unappealing and quite dangerous. CSOs contain untreated human waste, oxygen-demanding substances, ammonia, pesticides (such as malathion sprayed on the city to fight West Nile Virus), nutrients, petroleum products (from sources such as gas stations, auto repair shops, and garages), and other potential toxins and pathogenic microorganisms associated with human disease and fecal pollution…

Toxic metals and other hazardous substances come from industrial effluent, street runoff, and from households that contribute paints, oils, solvents and cleaners down the sink drain or storm drains in the street. Pesticides also wash off lawns and gardens into storm sewers.

Debris that washes off the streets or is flushed down toilets includes syringes, tampon applicators, and other plastic products.

We reached out to Stephen Levin to see what impact this can have on local residents and if there is a plan to safeguard us. His response:

At this point, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to prevent the Newtown Creek from overflowing.  I was down there at noon today and the bulkhead at GMDC was already under water, and the water was a couple of feet short of overflowing onto Manhattan Ave.  We are expecting a high tide tonight to coincide with the storm surge and that could mean a storm surge of 8-11 feet at Newtown Creek, which would obviously put Manhattan Ave under water.

DEP is already seeing Combined Sewer Overflows throughout the area, so everyone should treat any water overflowing from Newtown Creek as if it is contaminated with raw sewage.  That means staying away from it, avoiding contact with your hands, and cleaning anything that comes into contact with it with bleach.

MOST IMPORTANT-if you live in Zone A (between Commercial St and the Creek, west of Manhattan Ave; between Dupont St and the Creek, east of Manhattan Ave) you need to evacuate ASAP.  There will almost definitely be flooding from the Creek tonight that may go several blocks inland-DO NOT TAKE ANY CHANCES.

In addition to this, Kate Zidar said, “Advice to Greenpointers: Do not assume that standing water is clean. Do not play in it. Wear outside boots and leave those boots at the door.”

Kate added that in the long term, “the city needs to provide support for areas such as ours, in terms of investment in drainage and shoreline infrastructure, and area wide emergency planning that addresses the specific needs of industrial areas, and how this relates to adjacent residential areas.”

Be safe, Greenpoint.

Join the Conversation


  1. Will there be help for those people., as far as food goes……….since they cannot get to and from work., and shelves are empty………………my sister is there and i am very concerned about her…… When will the planes be able to fly in and out………………….so I can get her on a plane to me…..

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *