The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sleep has not come easily for your humble narrator of late, and dreaming offers little nepenthe. Days and nights it would seem, are consumed with images of the dread Newtown Creek and its insalubrious valley. English Kills in particular, the logical paramount of the waterway and the heart of darkness itself, draws my attention.

It is important to mention here that I am speaking from a personal point of view in this post and not espousing a majority opinion or policy of any of the “groups” with which the Newtown Pentacle has become affiliated. There are those I work for, work with, or work for me- who might not agree with statements made in this post offered to stimulate discussion on “common wisdom”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A decision which proved controversial this summer, on several Newtown Creek boat tours, was my demand that we no longer cross the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge with the general public on board. This is a deviation from prior years, but the prurient interest and wonderment of viewing the place is far outweighed by the risk posed to those who are exposed to its poisons. If you want to go back there, there are other options and other parties who will take you. Often it will be in a small vessel, often a kayak. Which is the point of this missive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, last week your humble narrator met with that staff of Manhattan doctors which have long maintained my delicate equilibrium. One of the topics of examination which the white coat crowd brought forward to me was the environmental exposure which my activities along the Creek brings, the long term consequences of same, and certain laboratory testing which they would like me to undergo due to my walking its banks. Paradoxically, certain interests involved in the ongoing story of the Newtown Creek held me to task for statements about water quality as related to recreational boating, fearing that my opinions might harm their particular interests and provide fuel for their critics in officialdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody’s friends at EPA are still in the process of discovering all that there may be which is buried down there, and until the results of their analysis are revealed (which will be nearly a decade from now)– no hard and fast statement about the water quality can be considered reliable or sound. Apocrypha and incomplete discoveries, however, suggest that a witch’s brew of worst case scenarios are to be found all along the Creek- and especially in the section of English Kills which lies beyond DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “numbers” which most use to discuss water quality in this place are relative to the presence of microscopic entities like the enterococcus, bacterial counts of which are calculated relative to recent rain events and so called “outfalls”. Famously, the rule in most of NY harbor is to wait 72 hours after it rains before swimming or boating because of a “high count”, and the folks at DEP calculate the success of their endeavors based on an accounting of the population of this particular microbial specie (a Federal Standard, they used to use Fecal Coliform). Virii and Prions are neither tested for, nor counted.

When a beach is closed, its usually because “the count” is high, for instance. The difference to the surrounding waters which Newtown Creek presents is that sewer borne bacteria are merely the tip of the iceberg which floats in this stagnant water.

Don’t forget- orange juice and ice do not a screw driver make, it’s when you stir in the vodka that you achieve a proper and singular cocktail bearing a potency beyond that of its individual components.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An enormous waste transfer station acts as a concentrating point for the putrescent waste of New York City just back there, producing an excruciating stink. The shorelines of this particular valley are lined with state superfund sites, and large sewer outfalls feed millions of gallons of human waste into English Kills annually. That CSO “flow” also carries with it every chemical which has passed through a human filter- birth control and steroid pharmaceuticals, undigestable food additives and dyes, and all the runoff from the gutters which carries solvents, automotive drippings, and whatever washes out of the enormous acreage of cemeteries which distinguish the neighborhoods around the Newtown Creek watershed.

Not trying to “gross you out”, but facts are immutably facts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Detractors would offer that your humble narrator is not a doctor, scientist, or much of anything at all. They would further inform you that I am a doomsayer, alarmist, and given to making unfounded statements based on a layman’s understanding of the complex chemistry which composes the so called waters of Newtown Creek. They call me a vulgar fool as well, but not to my face.

All this is true, of course, but it doesn’t mean that I’m incorrect.

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