Recent city investigations have revealed new information about two major health concerns for Greenpoint residents: details on the contaminants—and the plans for clean-up—in one of the nation’s most polluted waterways, Newtown Creek; and the locations of and possible health problems associated with Monsanto’s potentially cancer-causing Roundup, which can be found in many of Greenpoint’s green spaces.
Though there is currently insufficient data to determine the exact health risks Newtown Creek as a whole may pose to the Greenpoint community, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted tests proving what many have suspected all along: that the pollution, the majority of which rests at the bottom of the creek in the sediment, comes from the creek’s heavy historic industrial uses, specifically petroleum and heavy metal production. There’s also a significant amount of untreated sewage from the City of New York and urban runoff after rainfall. The EPA’s investigation is ongoing, but they have warned against full body immersion into the creek, as well as eating fish and crab caught in the creek (though catch and release fishing has been determined safe).
Newtown Creek is one of three major sites in Brooklyn—the other two being the Gowanus Canal and Wolff-Alport—that are designated Superfund sites. The EPA placed the Creek on the National Priority List, which requires the government to investigate and remediate each site.
“We got our designation in 2010, and we’re still in the remedial investigation phase, which means that contractors of the EPA have gone out and spent about two or three years collecting lots and lots of data about what the contamination is, where it’s most concentrated. From that they’ll be putting forth a plan of clean-up,” said Willis Elkins, an artist and member of the Newtown Creek Alliance, in an interview with City Limit’s BK Live.
According to Professor Zhongqi Cheng, director of the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College, the EPA will conduct a typical Superfund clean-up broken into several major steps, which includes looking at the type, level, and special distribution of contaminants in the creek; examining the site conditions, or the geology; evaluating the cost and who will be paying for it (in Newtown Creek’s case, this includes major corporations like Exxon/Mobil in addition to the City of New York); calculating how long it will take to clean it up properly; and determining health risks to humans and to the environment.
In its official Public Health Assessment for Newtown Creek, written after its preliminary investigation of the site, the New York State Department of Health declared a major three-part plan for the Creek: continue sampling to determine the level of contamination and the next steps for cleanup; prevent health risks to humans and animals; and inform the community about the current contamination levels and health procedures.
While the EPA may have a clear plan of action for cleanup in Newtown Creek, there doesn’t seem to be one for the New York City Parks Department, which has used Monsanto’s potentially cancer-causing Roundup on many of Greenpoint’s green spaces, including Transmitter Park, McCarren Park, and various isolated spots throughout the neighborhood. The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed Roundup, which contains a significant amount of glyphosate, as a probable carcinogen that could cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, birth defects, and celiac disease, allergies, asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Despite all of that, the Parks Department still employs it as a major herbicide.
Many groups, including the Black Institute, Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir, Stop The Spray and other members of the Coalition Against Poison Parks, have developed an interactive map that showcases the prevalence of Roundup throughout New York City. On Tuesday, February 23, this map was presented to Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver in an effort to force the city to publically show where chemicals like Roundup and other glyphosate is being sprayed.
The effort to eliminate the use of Roundup has been on the radar since the 1970s, when the EPA first declared Roundup as a possible cause for cancer—though they took back the declaration after reevaluating their findings only six years later. WHO declared glyphosate, which has been assumed to be a benign herbicide since the reversal by the EPA , as a potential carcinogen in March 2015.
Though still a controversial conversation, groups like Black Institute, Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir, and Stop The Spray are working hard to eliminate the risk of carcinogens through the use of Roundup in Greenpoint and throughout New York City.