Newtown Creek ©C Kirkpatrick
Once it was an American Eden. Fish swam in its waters, animals and Indians lived along its shores. It was longer then, wider too. Most of all it, was clean.
But where water flows, industry follows, and by the late 1800s, Newtown Creek, the 3.8 mile channel* dividing western Brooklyn from western Queens, was lined with chemical plants, glue and fertilizer factories, fat renderers, and refineries to process oil. In an unregulated age, companies were free to dispose of their byproducts, including lead, cadmium, and sulfuric acid, in the waters of the Creek, which was also an outlet for raw sewage.
After World War II, manufacturing began to migrate south and overseas, leaving behind a complex and brutal legacy of contamination and ruin. In 1978, a Coast Guard patrol spotted oil streaming into the Creek near Meeker Avenue, the result of an underground spill larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Newtown Creek a Super Fund site.
But this isn’t a blog about “hot spots” at Phelps Dodge, or the night soil boat of the 1800s, or the oil spill under Greenpoint that’s still going on. It’s not about history, industry or ecology, maybe not even about photography. It’s about how things start and how they end, and how they carry on sometimes in strange, unexpected ways. And about a small body of water that puts a spell over people with cameras.
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