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Greenpoint Residents Push State for Further Health Studies of Newtown Creek

By Gwynne Hogan | August 22, 2016 4:25pm
 Newtown Creek is one of the country's most polluted waterways, according to the federal government.
Newtown Creek is one of the country's most polluted waterways, according to the federal government.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

GREENPOINT — Neighborhood activists and a local politician are teaming up to push the state to more seriously study health risks for residents who live near Newtown Creek, following a preliminary health report that found no cancer risk to people who live near the waterway.

The group is also calling on the state Department of Health to put up signs warning against eating fish or crabs from the creek, according to two letters sent to the agency.

The state's study released in April, which found no elevated risk of of most types of birth defects and cancers among residents near Newtown Creek, failed to consider historical pollutants around the creek, measure lead or other toxic chemicals in the river or consider the long-term impacts of exposure to those toxic elements, community activists and local Sen. Martin Dilan charged in recent letters sent to the state's Health Department.

"There is little discussion of the historical industrial pollution that has contributed to health issues in and around the Newtown Creek area," wrote State Sen. Martin Dilan in an Aug. 15 letter, adding that other sites of former factories and oil spills aren't considered in the state's health analysis.

"I recommend a more concerted effort to discuss these sources of pollution and the cumulative effects of exposure to this array of pollutants over decades, as well as their contribution to incidences of disease in the area surrounding Newtown Creek," he wrote.

While the April report claimed to find no statistical link between proximity to the creek and cancer or birth defects, advocates who'd been pushing for a health study for years, pointed out that the methodology used, which relied on existing health data, didn't get specific information from neighborhood households that would have allowed for a more in-depth dive at health impacts in the area.

And a disclaimer in the study had earlier set off red flags for advocates.

"A study of this type cannot prove that a specific environmental exposure caused elevated levels of health problems in a community, nor does it provide information about causes of health problems in individual people," the April report stated.

In cases where the report did find elevated rates of some types of cancers — liver and lung cancer for men and cervical cancer among women — environmental pollutants were barely considered, advocates pointed out. 

"Smoking is discussed on 13 separate pages yet pollutants found in the Newtown Creek [like] PCB’s and PAH’s are not mentioned once," said Mike Schade, a community advocate with Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group, referring to two type of toxic chemicals that have been previously documented in the creek

The Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group was set up to oversee the cleanup process of the Newtown Creek once it was designated a Superfund site in 2010

"The authors of the report really seem to go out of their their way not to discuss the history and legacy of pollution," Schade said. 

He would also like to see a warning of the creek's pollution for fishermen who can sometimes be seen casting lines into the murky depths, Schade said. 

“It’s a real no-brainer," Schade said. "That’s something that the Department of Health can do to do a better job of protecting public health, which is of course their job.”

The Department of Health didn't respond to a request for comment immediately.