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City to Invest $30 Million to Stop Trash Flow Into Newtown Creek

By Gwynne Hogan | January 12, 2016 4:25pm
 Environmental activist Christopher Swain swam Newtown Creek in Dec. 2015 and said it was the most polluted waterway he had ever been in.
Environmental activist Christopher Swain swam Newtown Creek in Dec. 2015 and said it was the most polluted waterway he had ever been in.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

EAST WILLIAMSBURG — The fetid waters of Newtown Creek known for bobbing trash and human waste may get a bit cleaner, thanks to a $30 million project to install massive filters to help sift out debris from the streets.

Construction is already underway on the four litter trappers — two of which will be in East Williamsburg while another two will be in Long Island City — and they should be fully functioning by 2017, the Department of Environmental Preservation announced Monday.

The filters installed deep in the sewage system near entrances to the canal, will catch physical debris from the streets before it can make its way into the waterway, that's already considered one of the country's most polluted. 

“Cleaning up and revitalizing Newtown Creek is one of our top priorities," said the department's Commissioner Emily Lloyd. "We look forward to continuing to work with elected officials, environmental groups and residents on the many other projects were are working on to futher improve the health of Newton Creek."

Several other litter trappers have already been installed near the Gowanus Canal and the Bronx River and have siphoned off 200 tons of litter in three years, according to DEP.

But while trash may be unsightly, it's only a small piece of the deep-rooted issue of pollution at Newtown Creek, said Chris Len, an attorney at Riverkeeper, a non-profit that advocates for clean waterways.

"By making it look cleaner, that doesn't mean it's actually cleaner," Len said, pointing out that decades of oil spills and continued sewage overflow threaten wildlife and water quality in the creek. "[It's] like kicking your crap under the bed when you're eight years old."

The trappers will collect only physical debris while raw sewage water mixed with storm water will still filter into the canal when it rains. The DEP is dealing with that issue by building thousands of bits of green infrastructure around the Newtown Creek area to absorb rainwater so it doesn't overload the city's pipes, a spokesman said.

On a recent swim down the putrid waterway, clean water activist Christopher Swain described the extent of the filth, with a bizarre chemical smell of "cinnamon toast," "floating turds" and "used condoms." It was the worst waterway he'd ever swam in, he said.