The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

warm and fragrant

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

An appointment in Greenpoint carried me across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge last Tuesday, and as my habit is to be early to meetings, some time was available for photography. It was an unusual and foggy day, and the mists were creating an enormous depth of field atmospherically. Always a visual pleasure, the GPA bridge offers views of the former Tidewater pumping station on the Queens bank as well as the tank farms of Lukoil and Metro fuel on the Brooklyn bank- which are pictured above.

That’s when I noticed something disturbing.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We are lucky that we live in the age we do, when an oil slick moving down the languorous Newtown Creek is a remarkable sight. Once upon a time, such visualizations were commonly extant and regularly observed. Luckily, due to regulation and improved industrial practices, such events happen far less frequently than they once did.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The standard protocol to follow when you observe an oil slick on the Newtown Creek, or anywhere in New York Harbor, is to first document it by taking a picture using your cell phone or digital camera. Make a note of your location and the time. Next, call 311 to alert city authorities, followed by a call to the State DEC spill hotline- 1 (800) 457-7362.

They take these matters quite seriously.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Take note of whether the tide is coming in or going out, as this will help authorities to pinpoint the source of the contaminants. On this day, the tide was ebbing and the oil slick was flowing toward the East River along the tepid current. It should be mentioned that the obvious petroleum industry presence found alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is maintained by fairly responsible parties in modernity, and the shot above is not meant to indite or should be viewed as indicative of being responsible for the event depicted in this post.

The slick was coming from the other direction, flowing east to west and traveling beneath the bridge toward them.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Later that afternoon, after having accomplished my intended goals in Greenpoint, and returning home via the Pulaski Bridge to Queens- a new feature on the lower Creek was noticed. A temporary or floating dock installed nearby the Vernon Avenue Street End, and one of two “work boats” was traveling eastward from it and moving under the Pulaski.

It moved too fast for me to ready the camera, but it bore the screed “spill response boat” upon it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody’s friends at Riverkeeper, whom I informed of my observations upon returning home, made inquiries with DEC officials about the nature and extent of this possible spill event. DEC sent back word that the slick was no spill, rather it was likely a result of sediment sampling efforts being carried out by the Federal EPA as part of the ongoing discovery phase of the Superfund process. It seems that while dredging up small quantities of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” which lines the bed of the creek for study, some effluent might have been released into the waterway.

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  1. [...] period” during which a series of such tests will be performed. Since January, I have personally witnessed dozens of such operations- ranging from towing a sonar buoy up and down the waterway to establish a [...]


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