Greenpoint Gazette

Sheen Madness: Newtown’s Mysterious Slick

BY Juliet Linderman

There’s something in the water at Newtown Creek…again.

Last Thursday, representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation gave a presentation addressing the source of a mysterious sheen that first appeared on the surface of Newtown Creek in August of 2008, sending Greenpointers into a frenzy.

The investigation was prompted by concerned neighborhood residents—namely community member Laura Hoffman and her husband Mike—who noticed a thick brown oil slick and reported in to the DEC. Several months later, in May of 2009, DEC received more complaints, and was prompted to launch a comprehensive study to determine the source of the sheen.

“There is sometimes sediment contamination, and sometimes after rainfall there is runoff that ends in the Creek,” said Randy Austin, Chief of Spill Prevention and Response Programs in Region 2 of the Environmental Remediation Division. “But this stuff looked pretty bad. And now we have wildlife here on Newtown Creek. If they encounter oil, they will have problems.”

The sheen was most concentrated along the Newtown Creek Nature Walk Park, and first discovered on the border of Whale Creek. At first, DEC thought the sheen—a thick, brown and oily substance—may have come from a sewage discharge, or an upwelling of already contaminated sediment, though these theories were quickly discounted upon further investigation. On June 19th, the DEC conducted a shoreline survey for outfalls at low tide for evidence of oil discharges, and discovered a white, cloudy discharge, as well as a point source: a ready-mix concrete facility. In addition, the Borden Avenue Bridge dewatering in Long Island City was cited as a source of contamination. Upon closer inspection, DEC determined that the concrete facility was illegally discharging waste into Newtown Creek via storm drain, and required the owners to immediately re-route their pipes to connect directly to the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant.

This incident came on the heels of a high-profile case in which the proprietors of 233 Norman Holding LLC received cease and desist order for dumping raw sewage directly into Newtown Creek. They have since been indicted 27 felony charges and 54 misdemeanors.

Though the sheen in question is considered isolated from the dumping of raw sewage into the Creek, it is symptomatic of a larger problem.

“Raw sewage was going into the Creek on a regular basis,” said DEC Regional Director Susan Mattei.

Representatives from DEC recommended that if anyone notices a sheen or an unusual discharge, to take photographs if possible and file the complaint immediately. Unlike other types of contamination, sheens are irreparable; The best way to cure one is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

“We can’t vacuum it up or absorb it. A slick may be remedied, but not a sheen,” Mattei said. “So the only solution is prevention.”

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