The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for April 12th, 2012

dull wonder

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ongoing observations of the FedEx construction project at Dutch Kills are impossible for your humble narrator to avoid, as my daily travels often necessitate that my incessant marching carry me past the place. Luckily, recent phases of the project have created lapses in the fencing around the site which have allowed visual access that doesn’t require climbing upon or dangling from either traffic signals or the Long Island Expressway.


In 1642, licenses were granted to some Dutch citizens to settle in Queens. “Kill” is a Dutch word meaning “little stream.” Since Dutch men settled around the “Kill,” (in Long Island City) the name Dutch Kills was adopted. The “Kill” (or stream) is a tributary of Newtown Creek, which divides Queens from Brooklyn.

During the Revolutionary War, British troops were billeted in a series of farmhouses on 39th Avenue (Beebe Avenue). These houses stood until 1903 when they were torn down to make way for the railroad. In the early 1900’s the Queensborough Bridge was opened. Proximity to Manhattan, presence of railroads, and Long Island all contributed to the importance of Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve conducted a few private walking tours of the area around Dutch Kills in recent weeks, mainly for groups of European and American students, many of whom were aghast at the scale of this endeavor and stunned by the lack of dust abatement going on. Wisely, several of them held handkerchiefs to their mouth and nose while walking by.

from wikipedia

Dust abatement refers to the process of inhibiting the creation of excess soil dust, a pollutant that contributes to excess levels of particulate matter.

Frequently employed by local governments of arid climates such as those in the Southwest United States, dust abatement procedures may also be required in private construction as a condition of obtaining a building permit.

Dust abatement methods include the regular spraying of water on loose dirt in construction sites, the paving of or applying magnesium chloride to dirt roads, and restricting access to dusty areas.

Abatement oil (an organic, lubricating and penetrating oil) most commonly used to remove debris such as dust and asbestos. Application of this product is normally done by lathering onto the surface and then removing with a clean dry cloth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which I’m growing increasingly apprehensive about is the “occupational exposure” to the endemic pollutants surrounding and suffusing the Newtown Creek waterway. As mentioned in earlier postings, when visiting a sewer plant I no longer react to the smell and consider a visit to a Waste Transfer station on the banks of English Kills to be a pleasurable diversion.

The sudden illness and death of my friend and mentor Bernie Ente a year ago weighs heavily on my mind even now, and little doubt exists in my mind that the Creek had at least a tangential role in his decline.

from wikipedia

An occupational exposure limit is an upper limit on the acceptable concentration of a hazardous substance in workplace air for a particular material or class of materials. It is typically set by competent national authorities and enforced by legislation to protect occupational safety and health. It can be a tool in risk assessment and in the management of activities involving handling of dangerous substances. There are many dangerous substances for which there are no formal occupational exposure limits. In these cases, control banding strategies can be used to ensure safe handling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the world of the Newtown Creek- where the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume, where sickly trees fed by a morbid nutrition struggle to burst forth from the shattered cement, where the water is a sickly shade of antifreeze green, and where every surface is coated with a queer and iridescent “colour”- what strange and undesirable substance might be carried by the lightest of breezes?

Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there, which has been granted freedom?


To protect humans and the environment from damage by air pollution, DEC continually measures levels of pollutants in the air. DEC regularly reports the results of these measurements — in the case of ozone, which at high levels can be a threat to human health, the results and predicted pollution levels are reported in real time, on DEC’s website and through broadcast media.

DEC measures air pollutants at more than 80 sites across the state, using continuous and/or manual instrumentation. These sites are part of the federally-mandated National Air Monitoring Stations Network and the State and Local Air Monitoring Stations Network. Real time direct reading measurements include gaseous criteria pollutants (ozone, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide), PM2.5 (fine particulate with diameter less than 2.5 microns), and meteorological data. Filter based PM2.5, lead, and acid deposition samples are collected manually and shipped to the laboratory for analysis.

Monitoring air for pollutants is a complex technical task, requiring not only direct measurement, but also measurement standards and quality assurance to ensure that the information provides a correct understanding of air quality in New York State. Ambient air quality reports provide the data and interpretations to the technical community and the public.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These concerns about exposure to the poisons of the watershed have been expressed to the team of medical professionals who keep my health at delicate balance. Queries are advanced from this group of doctors as to why I just can’t leave this place to its own devices and disposition. What compulsion is it that drives one time and again to venture into this veritable lions den of carcinogens, corrosives, and environmental corruption?

from wikipedia

In human context, self-destructive behaviour is a widely used phrase that conceptualises certain kinds of destructive acts as belonging to the self. It also has the property that it characterises certain kinds of self-inflicted acts as destructive. The term comes from objective psychology, wherein all apparent self-inflicted harm or abuse toward oneself is treated as a collection of actions, and therefore as a pattern of behaviour.

Acts of “self-destruction” may be merely metaphorical (“social suicide”) or literal (suicide). Generally speaking, self-destructive actions may be deliberate, born of impulse, or developed as a habit. The term however tends to be applied toward self-destructions that are potentially habit-forming or addictive, and are thus potentially fatal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Simply put, it has become my belief that if Newtown Creek and it’s tributaries can “be solved”, a thorough understanding of the problem- both historical and modern- will be required. Such a magnificent puzzle as the one this place represents, located at the very navel of New York City, might offer a solution to larger national puzzles. It’s my hope that in some small way, this blog can help to “connect the dots” when somebody far more intelligent than myself applies themselves to the issue in the future.

The answer won’t be offered by me, of course, as I must always remain an outsider cursed to watch and record but never to participate in such things.

from wikipedia

The optimisism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism) is a self-serving bias where an individual perceives that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. The optimistic bias is seen in a number of different scenarios, including causing individuals to believe that they are less at risk of being a victim of a crime, smokers to believe they are less likely to contact lung cancer or disease than other smokers, and even first-time bungee jumpers believe that they are less at risk of an injury than other jumpers. Although this bias occurs in both positive and negative events, there is more research and evidence that the bias is stronger for negative events. However, there are different consequences that come from these events: positive events often result in feelings of well being and self-esteem, while negative events lead to consequences with more risk, such as engaging in risky behaviors and not taking precautionary measures. The optimistic bias can also be viewed in terms of expectancies about specific events

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