We in Greenpoint know better than to swim in the toxic, bacteria-laden Newtown Creek. We might soon be exposed to the contents of the creek regardless through a proposed aeration plant that would go in the Dutch Kills area of the creek.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comment on the matter through Monday, April 4, and the Newton Creek Alliance drafted a letter in strong opposition  (PDF) to the current plan.

Aeration Map via Newtown Creek Alliance

The process of aeration increases the water’s oxygen content levels to support marine plants and fish, which were depleted after a century’s worth of industrial pollution and wastewater overflow. The air bubbles travel from installed pipes at the bottom of the creek, releasing oxygen bubbles — but the air doesn’t stop there.

A 2012 study by researchers at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found that the air bubbles transfer bacteria to the air near English Kills, an especially contaminated mile-long area of the creek in Bushwick, Brooklyn. A pilot aeration system was launched at English Kills in 2009.

Dr. Elias Dueker, now an assistant professor of environmental and urban studies at Bard College, was a researcher on the English Kills air study. “Our research shows that there is movement of bacteria from water to the air, and what is in the water is often untreated sewage from CSO (combined sewage overflow) events, which is not good,” Dueker said.

“The research does not show there is a public health risk,” he added, noting that his findings only confirm the presence of bacteria in the air from the water; a study on the health effects has yet to be conducted at Newtown Creek. “Bacterium in the air is actually not treated as pollution, so it’s not regulated; making it tough for city and state institutions to do anything about it,” Dueker said.

Aeration Plant in Bushwick, Brooklyn at English Kills; via Mitch Waxman

Willis Elkins, program manager at the NCA, is active in the efforts to revitalize the creek. “To the credit of the DEC and DEP, oxygen levels have increased significantly,” Elkins said, adding that he would like to see combined sewer overflow addressed first.

Willis Elkins explains aeration in Newtown Creek; video by A. Simon.

New studies link airborne particulate matter with adverse health effects, such as respiratory illness and heart disease. A 2011 study conducted at six Mumbai wastewater treatment plants showed that workers are indeed “exposed to opportunistic and infectious bacteria.”

Greenpoint’s air pollution is already amongst the dirtiest in NYC, according to a NYU Langhorne Medical study linking air pollution to stroke risk. The addition of an aeration plant may very well contribute to the problem.

The public comment period is open through next Monday; address your concerns via email or written letter to the address below.

US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Jacob K. Javits Federal Building
ATTN: Regulatory Branch
New York, N.Y. 10278­0090
naomi.j.handell@usace.army.mil

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