Newtown Creek

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Newtown Creek
The Creek in Long Island City
Country United States
State New York
Municipality New York City
 - left English Kills, Whale Creek
 - right Maspeth Creek, Dutch Kills
Source Grand Avenue and 47th Street
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Mouth East River
 - location 2nd Street and 54th Avenue in Long Island City
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m)
 - coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Length 3.5 mi (6 km)
 - average 59.3 cu ft/s (2 m3/s)
Newtown Creek and its tributaries

Newtown Creek is a 3.5-mile (6-kilometer) long estuary that forms part of the border between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, in New York City. Channelization made it one of the most heavily used bodies of water in the Port of New York and New Jersey and thus one of the most polluted industrial sites in the US,[1] containing years of discarded toxins, an estimated 30 million US gallons (110,000 m3) of spilled oil, including the Greenpoint oil spill, raw sewage from New York City’s sewer system,[1] and other accumulation from a total 1,491 sites.[2] Newtown Creek was proposed as a potential Superfund site in September 2009,[3] and received that designation on September 27, 2010.[4]


The creek begins near the intersection of 47th Street and Grand Avenue on the Brooklyn-Queens border at the intersection of the East Branch and English Kills.[5] It empties into the East River at 2nd Street and 54th Avenue in Long Island City, opposite Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan at 26th Street. Its waterfront, and that of its tributaries Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, are heavily industrialized.

Because the surrounded neighborhoods are completely sewerized, the creek has little natural inflow. Its outgoing flow of 14 billion US gallons (53,000,000 m3) per year consists of combined sewer overflow, urban runoff, raw domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater. The creek is largely stagnant, one cause being the 15-foot-thick (4.6 m) layer (in some places 25 feet (7.6 m)[2]) of polluted sludge that has congealed on the creek bed.[1]

The Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, used only for freight west of Jamaica, runs along the north bank.


It derives its name from New Town (Nieuwe Stad), which was the name for the Dutch and British settlement in what is now Elmhurst, Queens. Before the nineteenth century urbanization and industrialization of the surrounding neighborhoods, Newtown Creek was a longer and shallower tidal waterway, wide enough that it contained islands. It drained parts of what are now the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside, and Long Island City in Queens.

During the second half of the 19th century it became a major industrial waterway, with the city starting to dump raw sewage into it in 1866;[2] it was bounded along most of its length by retaining walls, the shipping channel maintained by dredging.

Before 1950, bulk-oil storage facilities near the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Huron Street were spilling petroleum in amounts that were eventually more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. An underground explosion at the same corner added to the problem. (BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have since removed half of the spill, about 12 million gallons, from the creek and surrounding area.)

In 1973 the Peter van Iderstine plant which had been turning butcher's discards and at least one 10-ton elephant into fertilizer, animal feed, and glue since 1855 was charged with contaminating the creek with animal fats. The plant closed two years later but the smell of burning animals lingered.[2]

In 1978, a United States Coast Guard helicopter on a routine patrol discovered the Greenpoint oil spill, a discharge that lasted another 30 years that spilled three times the oil of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.[6]

Whale Creek side of Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant digester tanks
Newtown Creek from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge

In 1998, the city started a program to expand the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, now the city's largest sewage treatment facility, which is located on the south bank near the creek's mouth in Greenpoint. Construction is expected to be completed in 2014, and the plant remains opens throughout the renovation process. The plant's unusual aesthetics, especially its 140-foot (42 meter) tall metallic "digester eggs" which are illuminated at night with blue lights, have made it a local landmark. In part to appease neighborhood residents who initially opposed the plant's expansion, the City of New York built a nature walk alongside Newtown Creek just outside the plant's perimeter in 2009.[7][8] Later the North Brooklyn Boat Club built a boatyard and education center with funds from the Exxon's settlement with the state to allow access to the creek.[9]

In the early 2000s, during the construction boom, construction companies dumped concrete slurry into the creek. The city fined Empire Transit Mix in 2005 for ridding itself of its slurry through a secret pipe. Some off loads of other companies had pH levels equal to household ammonia.[2]

In 2007, residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and the New York State Attorney General's Office filed lawsuits regarding the Greenpoint oil spill. On September 27, 2010, the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated Newtown Creek as a Superfund site, preparing the way for evaluation and environmental remediation of the stream. Environment advocacy groups supported the decision.[10]


Even with the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, when it rains, it reaches capacity, and raw sewage and street run-off, which includes everything from condoms to dead rats, pours into the creek from 23 different locations. The margin between rainfall and sewage overflow only thins with the city's further development. In addition, it was reported in December 2013 that in addition to oil and human waste, EPA crews were expected to find toxic substances such as arsenic, cesium-137, and polychlorinated biphenyls.[2]


Newtown Creek is crossed by the Pulaski Bridge (replacing the Vernon Avenue Bridge in the 1950s), the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge or Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and the Kosciuszko Bridge, which carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Some of the bridges that cross it and its tributaries are named for the street that they carry, such as Grand Street Bridge and Metropolitan Avenue Bridge.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Newtown Creek Clean-Up Efforts". The City Concealed. Thirteen ( 2008-12-12. Retrieved 2009-06-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Smith, Peter Andrey (Dec 16, 2013). "Liquid Cow and Black Mayo". New York magazine. p. 20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Newtown Creek Superfund Site". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2010-09-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Navarro, Mireya (2010-09-27). "Newtown Creek Is Declared a Superfund Site". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Newtown Creek Alliance". Newtown Creek Alliance. Archived from the original on January 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Walker, Dalton (July 19, 2007). "Exxon Mobil Cleanup Effort Continues on Brooklyn Spill". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The Newtown Creek Nature Walk (flyer)" (PDF). New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Retrieved 14 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Korman, Benjamin (2011-09-01). "Nature Does Not Knock". 7STOPS. Retrieved 2011-09-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "A Dream On Its Way to Reality: The Greenpoint Boathouse & Environmental Education Center" Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP), October 1, 2012, Retrieved July 28, 2013
  10. "US adds industrialized NYC creek to Superfund list". Business Week. Associated Press. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2010-09-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links