The Newtown Pentacle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As your humble narrator scuttles in palsied manner across the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek watershed, observations have revealed that a sizable number of Federal employees are now employed and extant upon the water. Early phases of the process which these EPA contractors and supervisory staff are carrying out, they seek an answer to the burning question long offered at this- your Newtown Pentacle, “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ignorant, and vulnerable to the pernicious rumormongering of area wags, your humble narrator has been attending and has in fact joined the “Newtown Creek CAG” in order to receive reports and breaking news about the progress of these Federal teams sent by the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the morass, stare into the abyss, and perform the field measurements of conditions upon and indeed within the Newtown Creek.

The CAG is intended to serve as a point of interaction between the agency and present community concerns, reactions, and requests or complaints arising from the community to the agency. Additionally, it will attempt to distribute and disseminate information which the EPA desires the public to know and or consider.

To that end, the EPA has made available these two documents:

US EPA’s presentation at the May 21 CAG meeting.

US EPA technical assistance in a nutshell, with details about Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) and the Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) program.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Discussion at recent meetings have discussed the concerns of area businesses who have been experiencing difficulty with bank financing, queries about the methodology of epidemiological and health studies to be conducted in surrounding stakeholder communities, and a timeline was presented for the various phases of their mission. A series of laboratory tests, performed upon samples gathered from literally thousands of individual “sites”, are underway.

All summer, you will see these little workboats on the Creek, whose crews will be collecting, sampling, and recording data about the Newtown Creek.


June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boat Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at

For June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

warm and fragrant

with one comment

– 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.

Superfund me

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

LO, BEHOLD, and TREMBLE… for the Newtown Pentacle is back in session…

Over several of the last few years, agents and officials of the Federal Government have conducted a strange and secretive investigation into certain conditions within and around the ancient New York waterway called the Newtown Creek.

The public first learned of it in 2009, when a vast series of public meetings and pronouncements were offered by agents of the Environmental Protection Agency which confirmed and introduced the news that the ancient corridor of industry and forbidden history called the Newtown Creek was being considered for inclusion on the Federal Superfund list.

This listing would bestow extraordinary powers over the waterway, and ultimate authority, to the Federal Government. Effectively, the 3.8 mile long border of Brooklyn and Queens with its enormous number of crumbling bulkheads, worm eaten piers, and supposedly empty warehouses are now the responsibility of the G-Men. Uninquiring souls let the occurrence pass as one of the major developments in a spasmodic war on environmental pollution and the toxic legacy of the industrial revolution.


Release date: 09/27/2010

Contact Information: John Senn (212) 637-3667,

(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today added Newtown Creek in New York City to its Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. The final listing will allow EPA to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the creek to determine what remedial actions need to be implemented. Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Potentially harmful contaminants such as pesticides, metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in Newtown Creek along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air.

“The toxic pollution in Newtown Creek is more than a century in the making. EPA is placing Newtown Creek on the Superfund list to ensure the creek receives a thorough cleanup,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Newtown Creek is a key urban waterway, which provides recreational and economic resources to many communities. Throughout the investigation and cleanup, we will work closely with the communities along the creek to achieve a revitalization of this heavily-contaminated urban waterway.”

EPA proposed Newtown Creek be added to the Superfund NPL list in September 2009. EPA received and considered public comments on its proposal before making its final decision.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Monday the 27th of September in this year of 2010, the EPA announced the Superfund listing of Newtown Creek would be moving forward.

Interesting coincidences abound for this date:

The first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908 in Detroit,  Einstein had his E=MC2 formula published for the first time in 1905, Crete fell to the Turks in 1669, and the Jesuits were granted a Papal charter in 1540. The Warren Commission released its report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1964, the Ottoman Siege of Vienna began in 1529, the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, and Thomas Nast was born in 1840.

It is also 110 years and 19 days after this report appeared in the NY Times, and some 122 years and 11 days since this report appeared in the same publication.

also from

EPA had previously responded to requests by members of Congress to evaluate specific sites along Newtown Creek by publishing a September 2007 report that contained a review of past and ongoing work being conducted to address the Greenpoint oil spill as well as recommendations regarding future work to assist with the spill response. The state of New York referred the site to EPA due to the complex nature of the contamination in the creek. EPA’s Superfund study and cleanup are expected to focus on the sediments in the creek and on identifying and addressing sources of pollution that continue to contribute to the contamination.

Newtown Creek is part of the core area of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, which has been designated by EPA as an “estuary of national significance.” Despite the ongoing pollution problems, some residents currently use the creek for recreational purposes such as kayaking, while others eat the fish they catch from the creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to statements rendered by Government representatives, the actual work on the remediation project is not scheduled to begin in earnest for several months (if not years), as a period of further study and evaluation of the endemic situation before the final formulation of their plans to ferret out and eradicate all that there is which may be buried down there.

The government plans on removing hundreds of metric tons of the sediment which lines the bottom of the Newtown Creek. Privileged to have been included on the conference call during which EPA announced their decision to the third estate, your humble narrator queried EPA personnel as to the methodology of its removal (terrestrial industries versus maritime) and whether they had determined a probable destination for the contaminant laced material they intend to dredge out.

Both questions seemed to have been unexpected, and they reported that answers will be readily uncovered when the final action plan is unveiled sometime in the near future.

additionally, from

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 industrial facilities 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. Some factories and facilities still operate along it, and various adjacent contaminated sites have contributed to its contamination. Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is badly polluted.

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 early 2009, EPA sampled the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries. EPA will review existing information about Newtown Creek to develop a plan for further investigation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The professional press also on the call seemed more interested in the Gowanus Canal, how the Mayor felt about the announcement, and grew fixated on the cost of the cleanup effort. EPA clearly spelt out that its budgeting process has barely begun, and they can neither supply a final cost estimate or time table at this early date. This is actually the logical course, as the secrets of the Newtown Creek must- as always- bubble up and reveal themselves to those who stare deeply into its occluded depths.

And, in their own time, all the poisons in the mud will leach out.

and also, from

EPA conducted an Expanded Site Investigation (ESI) of Newtown Creek in 2009 as part of the Hazard Ranking System scoring process for NPL listing under Superfund. Based on the ESI, which was focused on Newtown Creek itself and not its tributaries, EPA concluded that metals, volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls) were present in Creek sediments at elevated concentrations. The variety and distribution of the detected contaminants suggests that they originated from a variety of sources. Previous environmental investigations of Newtown Creek, or specific portions of the Creek, also disclosed that sediments in Newtown Creek are contaminated by a wide variety of hazardous substances. Environmental investigations of upland parcels adjacent to or nearby the Creek have disclosed contamination of those parcels by hazardous substances similar to hazardous substances found in sediments in Newtown Creek.

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