DOH releases Newtown Creek health warnings
by Heather Senison
May 30, 2012 | 1340 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Newtown Creek residents should avoid swimming in and eating fish from the contaminated waterway, according to a study recently released by state health agencies, but community members are calling on the government to do more research into the potential impacts of the waterway's cleanup.

Researchers in the report “conclude that swimming and other full-body immersion recreation (for example wind surfing, scuba diving) in Newtown Creek could harm people's health,” due to contaminants and physical hazards in the murky green water.

The health assessment was compiled by the state Health Department (DOH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

It found that recreational boating, including kayaking and catch-and-release-fishing, is not expected to harm people's health, as long as people don't drink the water and wash up afterwards.

The report includes a fish advisory, which states that women under 50 and children under 15 should not eat any crabs or fish caught in the creek due to chemical contaminants.

Men over 15 and women over 15 can eat Atlantic needlesfish, bluefish, carp, goldfish, rainbow smelt, striped bass and white perch once a month, and six blue crabs a month.

The agencies presented their findings at a meeting at the Warsaw Polish National Home in Greenpoint on Thursday, May 24, where community members submitted requests for more studies in the area.

Kate Zidar, director of the Newtown Creek Alliance and co-chair of the project's Community Advisory Group (CAG) said in an interview after the meeting that the community is interested to see the role the Environmental Protection Agency will play in the project now that the creek is a designated federal Superfund site.

She said the EPA can make communities feel uneasy at times, particularly small business owners, who tend to feel like they're being investigated during environmental projects such as this.

According to the EPA, more than 300,000 New Yorkers live within a half-mile of the 8.3-mile-long Newtown Creek, and there are more than 1,500 businesses located within a quarter-mile.

The remedial investigation of the creek is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

However, the silver-lining is that the EPA will keep state agencies on their toes, Zidar said.

“We need to kind of get the most that we can out of the EPA's tenure here,” she said. “The federal oversight can make sure that our state-level agencies are doing a good job.”

The CAG wants further studies done, Zidar said, including what the environmental impacts might be from the cleanup, and a comprehensive public health study to look at instances of illnesses, such as autoimmune deficiencies and asthma and how they may relate to living near the contaminated creek.

“We would like to see the DOH really work creatively with available data to meet the specific needs of Greenpoint residents,” she said.

Several residents who spoke at the meeting, including Councilman Stephen Levin and Democratic District Leader Lincoln Restler, also called for a comprehensive public health study from DOH.

However, officials who spoke at the meeting said such studies can be invasive into people's privacy, and diseases such as cancer are difficult to study since they have a latent period of five to 50 years.

Residents at the meeting also stressed that the issue's been going on since the 1960s, and that they don't want to wait another 20 years to see results.

Edmond Michaleski, a chemist who lives 10 blocks south of the creek on Oak Street, said his wife and two sons, who were born in Greenpoint, have asthma.

Michaleski said he wants the creek cleaned up before it contaminates the East River, which took the city decades to clean up.

“We suffered with this thing for 50 years already and I'd like to see it cleaned up in my lifetime,” he said.
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