The Newtown Creek site is a 3.8-mile waterway between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. In the mid-1800s, the area adjacent to 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.
Currently, factories and commercial facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination of Newtown Creek. Today, as a result of its industrial history, including numerous spills, Newtown Creek is reported by US Environmental Protection Agency to be one of the nation's most polluted waterways. The agencies have information that some city residents use Newtown Creek for recreation, such as boating tours, canoing, kayaking, and scuba diving, and that some people catch and eat fish and crabs from the creek. There are small boat access points and places where people have been observed fishing and catching crabs on Newtown Creek.
Public Health Assessment
The New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry complete a Public Health Assessment for every site in New York that is proposed to the National Priority List, also known as the federal Superfund list. In a Public Health Assessment, the health agencies review information about hazardous substances at a site and evaluate whether exposure to those substances might cause harm to human health.
For the Newtown Creek Public Health Assessment, we evaluated existing environmental data for chemicals in bottom sediments and biological contaminants in surface water. Based on this information and reports that people use Newtown Creek for fishing, scuba diving and boating, the New York State Department of Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have the following health advice:
- Eating fish and crabs taken from Newtown Creek could harm people's health, due to the chemical contaminants. Women under 50 years old and children under 15 years old should not eat any fish or crabs from these waters. Others should follow the State Health Department advisories for eating fish and crabs taken from this and other waterways. There is currently a fish consumption advisory that covers Newtown Creek (advisory for the East River).
- Swimming and scuba diving (with full body immersion) could harm people's health, due to biological contaminants and physical hazards (underwater debris, commercial boat traffic).
- Canoing, kayaking, boat touring and catch-and-release fishing are not expected to harm people's health, if people use precautions (properly washing their hands) to avoid swallowing biological contaminants from surface water.
The following health documents have been prepared for this site:
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Health Outcomes Review: Birth Outcomes and Cancer
A health outcomes review was conducted for a study area surrounding Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and Queens, New York City (Kings and Queens Counties). This review was conducted in response to community concerns about health effects from potential exposures related to the area’s urban and industrial setting. In response to these ongoing concerns, NYS DOH worked with community members to develop a study plan to review the levels of adverse birth outcomes and cancer among the population living near the creek.
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