Happy Thanksgiving, Greenpoint! Wondering what was happening around town as you were gearing up for the holiday? Read on to find out!
Good thing you’re reading this after the meal, since first up is a story about overflowing sewage. Last Wednesday, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection held a public meeting regarding the City’s efforts to curb sewage overflow into places like Flushing Bay, the Bronx River, the Harlem River and our very own Newtown Creek. Over 100 people turned out to make their voices heard.
When I came across these images on the Facebook feed of local environmental activist Laura Hofman, depicting a couple playing fetch with their dog off the Newtown Creek Nature Center, I was shocked and naturally disgusted. My first reaction was – Animal Abuse! Call the ASPCA. 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.
A 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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.