The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

opiate peace

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is not a dead place, this Creek which forms the currently undefended border between much of Brooklyn and Queens, despite wholly inaccurate statements to the contrary recently presented by major publications. To begin with, there is the teeming human infestation, whose population is in the millions. Additionally- migratory birds, invertebrate and vertebrate water fauna, and an enormous hidden population of higher mammals lurk amongst the canalized shorelines of the Newtown Creek.

from the– an article that gets a lot of things completely wrong, which is surprising for the times, and seems to be shilling against “Big Oil”

People don’t often think of urban creeks as biodiverse waterways, but Newtown Creek was once a rich tidal estuary popular among hunters and fishermen. Starting in the 1870s, however, Standard Oil and other refineries began spilling or dumping excess fuels and toxic chemicals into the water or onto the soil, slowly poisoning the ecosystem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously and recently, a Dolphin’s appearance near the Pulaski Bridge excited the neighboring communities, but such extravagances of nature would have a difficult time at Newtown Creek. There are ocean going and brackish water fish that get swept into the Creek by the East River’s irresistible tidal cycles, which actually drown in the oxygen poor water, but I’ve observed other things swimming in its shallow depths. Weird squamous things that defy description, burrowers and soft bodied tunnelers which thrive in the putrid muds that line its soft bottom. Perhaps, when the federal EPA superfund work begins, studies of these uncommented organisms will commence.

Hey, not everything that lives is beautiful, but against all the odds- life is tenacious and nature will find a way to get by.


Newtown Creek is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary that forms the northernmost border between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City.  More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards.  The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.  In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856.  During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Currently, factories and facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination at Newtown Creek.  Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.

Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek.

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.  Since then, a number of government sponsored cleanups of the creek have taken place. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has sampled sediment and surface water at a number of locations along the creek since 1980.  In 2009, EPA will further sample the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries.  The samples will be analyzed for a wide range of industrial contaminants.  EPA will use the data collected to define the nature of the environmental problems associated with Newtown Creek as a whole.

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