Look But Don’t Touch: No Swimming in Newtown Creek

by Heather Van De Mark on

As summer hits and temperatures rise, we’re all looking for ways to cool off. Considering our neighborhood is along the waterfront, it’s tempting to think a quick dip in the East River or Newtown Creek couldn’t hurt. Surprise, not really, it will hurt–or at least potentially make you very sick.

News is spreading over a few individuals who waded into the waters near the Newtown Creek Nature Walk and also let their dog swim in the waters.

If it’s not obvious that swimming in a superfund site is not a good idea, let’s revisit the NYS DOH’s Public Health Assessment of Newtown Creek (Feb. 24, 2014) [PDF]:

  • CONCLUSION 1: DOH and ATSDR conclude that swimming and other full body immersion recreation (for example, scuba diving) in Newtown Creek could harm people’s health. BASIS FOR DECISION: There are physical and biological hazards for swimmers and other people recreating in Newtown Creek. Since the greatest exposure to biological hazards is by swallowing water, people should avoid swimming in the creek. Page 5
  • Increased risk of illness is likely to occur when swimming in the water during these time periods. Water pollution caused by fecal contamination is a serious public health concern due to the risk of contracting diseases when swimming, through swallowing or coming in contact with disease causing agents such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. This may include gastrointestinal illness caused by pathogens such as E.coli, Shigella spp., Hepatitis A, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Page 6
  • While the average volume of water consumed by swimming may appear of little significance, several pathogens known to be found in sewage contaminated waters, such as E.coli O157:57, Shigella spp., Hepatitis A, Giardia and Cryptosporidium have relatively low infective doses. This means that swallowing a very small number of these pathogens can result in illness. Immersing the head in the water while swimming also increases the likelihood of eye, ear, and nose infections. Page 17
  • When swimming, human exposure to chemical hazards in the surface water is also possible; however, sampling for hazardous chemical constituents in places where people come into contact with water through non-swimming activities is needed. Page 20

Now you know. And that’s only a few excerpts from a 40-page report. To reiterate: Our waterfront is not for swimming. Need to swim? Try the McCarren Park Pool which opens this Thursday, June 26.

Heather Van De Mark

Heather Van De Mark

Heather is a designer/writer specializing in non-profit organizations and social causes. Originally from central NY, Heather settled into the charming Greenpoint neighborhood in 2011. While most of her community activism takes place from behind a computer screen, Heather can often be found at CB1 meetings, the McCarren Park track and any of the parks along the waterfront.