EPA releases sampling results from Coney Island Creek, finds presence of contamination

coney island creek
Samplings by the EPA found the presence of contaminants in Coney Island Creek, a waterway often used for swimming and boating.
File photo by Charles Denson

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has finished testing the water and soil at the notoriously contaminated Coney Island Creek — and they found further proof of a serious contamination from samplings taken in mid-2021. 

The Site Inspection Report, released on Jan. 13, is the next phase in determining whether the creek should be designated a Superfund cleanup site based on the likelihood of it releasing hazardous substances into the environment, following the Preliminary Assessment which was completed in September 2020. 

Despite the report documenting the presence of contaminants in Coney Island Creek — where a new ferry terminal is being constructed at the western edge of Kaiser Park — a representative of the EPA said it was too soon to recommend the site to the Superfund National Priorities List, and further investigation and consultation is needed. 

Weston Solutions collected 50 sediment samples from 21 locations within the creek and eight surface water samples from seven locations throughout April 2021 for the site inspection report, which showed the presence of contaminants in the creek’s sediment — primarily polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a chemical that occurs naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. 

Surface water samples also detected the presence of cyanide in the creek, of which the origin is unknown. The highly toxic chemical is not present in clean sediment that was used to replace contaminated soil up to three feet deep as part of the former Brooklyn Borough Gas Works cleanup in 2002, but was found in a sample location of sediment not associated with the cleanup that was downstream from where the chemical was detected in the surface water. 

The samples taken from Coney Island Creek were also found to contain other toxins such as volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature; semi-volatile organic compounds, a sub-group of volatile organic compounds that usually have a higher molecular weight and higher boiling point temperature; as well as pesticides.  

The results of the widespread sampling of the creek, which are further detailed in the report, will inform what further actions are needed, a press representative for the federal agency wrote in an email to Brooklyn Paper. This site would be eligible for Superfund status only if it is graded as a high enough hazard though the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System.

Though the creek is widely known to be contaminated, it is used for a variety of recreational activities including fishing for consumption and boating, and though it is not permitted, the creek is often used for religious ceremonies such as baptisms and for swimming.

The waterway, which defines the Coney Island peninsula, neighbors NYCHA’s Gravesend Houses where tenant advocates have proclaimed already-existing diseases have been harsher since the construction of the contested Coney Island Ferry, as its associated dredging is stirring up the contaminated sediment. 

The city Economic Development Corporation, which is spearheading the expansion of the NYC Ferry system, recently announced a yearlong delay of the Coney site launch which was slated for completion at the end of 2021 and now isn’t planned to open until late-2022. 

The city’s quasi-governmental agency shared they would need to conduct further dredging to make the channel deep enough for their ferries to pass through, and added that work cannot begin until after the expiration of an annual moratorium that runs from January through the end of June to protect winter flounder and horseshoe crabs. 

News of the delay in ferry service came as a relief to Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, who has been a staunch opponent of the ferry’s placement on the bayside of the peninsula, as she said it will give the community more time to advocate for the ferry terminal’s relocation to the oceanside of Coney Island. 

“Coney Island wants a ferry, Coney Island deserves a ferry, we’ve said all along it’s a matter of doing it the right way, we don’t want it at any cost, we don’t want it at the expense of our health,” she previously told Brooklyn Paper. “What this extra year does, it gives us a little breathing room to continue to conduct our advocacy.”