Earth Day Update: The Invisible Creek Not So Invisible Anymore

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Newtown Creek with New York City in the background, Credit: Betty Bastidas, (c) 2004Five years ago, the POV staff was surprised to discover that the most polluted waterway in America was situated roughly two miles north of our office in New York City on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. What was even more surprising was that none of us had ever heard of this tiny estuary before, even though many of us lived in Brooklyn. We produced a multimedia story about it called “The Invisible Creek” as part of our online-only series, POV’s Borders.

In that story, our intrepid correspondent, Gregory Warner, boated down Newtown Creek with the Hudson Riverkeeper’s chief investigator, Captain Basil Seggos, to document the environmental nightmare that the creek had become. At the time, Riverkeeper had recently filed a report on the creek in which they wrote:

“It fails to meet even the most basic goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Nearly the entire stretch of the creek is heavily industrialized, there is virtually no public access, and water dependent industries have stagnated. A boat trip up the creek is a journey into the heart of darkness, with the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline as a reminder of its real world locale.”

This being Earth Day, we thought about Newtown Creek, and we wondered if there had been any developments in its story. So, earlier this month, we checked in with Riverkeeper to find out what’s happened to the creek in the past five years. Unfortunately, the news is not good.

I spoke with Riverkeeper investigator Craig Michaels, who told me that there have been no improvements in the creek’s pollution levels. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering listing Newtown Creek as a federal Superfund site later this year. Yesterday, the New York Daily News reported that the EPA finished testing samples of the water in the creek two weeks ago as part of a project that they undertook in January after state officials asked that Newtown Creek be added to the Superfund list.

Michaels said that he couldn’t say for sure whether the creek is really the most polluted waterway in America, but he assured me that it’s up there. He explained that New York City releases over 27 billion gallons of raw sewage into New York Harbor every year and that ten percent of that waste (2.7 billion gallons!) flows directly into Newtown Creek.

Compared with Brooklyn’s other stinky cesspool, the Gowanus Canal, which federal officials announced last week they want to add to the Superfund list, Newtown Creek Alliance director Katie Schmid told the Daily News that she believes “Newtown Creek’s a shoo-in.”

Find out more about the history of this ignored waterway in our multimedia piece, and read Craig Michaels’ full update at the POV’s Borders site.

  • Theresa

    FOREIGNID: 18255
    Just came across this via Twitter:
    WNYC Cityscapes + Urban Omnibus meetup & tour, 6pm tonight at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Greenpoint
    My first though upon reading this post was that it was strange that they don’t even mention this Nature Walk is on the banks of a possible Superfund site? But then I clicked through to the Omnibus website, and found this incredibly positive and thoughtful post and video about the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. It sounds like a really cool project, particularly in terms of the community involvement, and a great beginning for positive change in the Creek’s future.
    Along with the Urban Omnibus writer, I’m curious whether NY’ers think the nature walk is too-little-too-late? Have any of you visited the Newtown Creek Nature Walk? What did you think of it?

  • James Lipscomb

    FOREIGNID: 18256
    I am trying to find out how to propose a documentary about a crew of teenage boys who sail a 60 foot schooner across the Pacific in a 17 month voyage for your 1010 season. Can you call me with some advice pleasel. I wouild like to send you a paper prdoposal with pictures and an accompanying book. which was written as the voyage was under way.

  • razertooth777

    U could look up documantry

  • razertooth777

    I have never been there but i guess its cool