Daredevil clean-water activist Christopher Swain finally conquered the 1.8 miles of the Gowanus Canal’s gonorrhea-infected waters in October, but on Wednesday the dirty diver is taking on an even bigger challenge: paddling his way through Newton Creek’s 3.5 miles of oil spills and sewage leaks in the dead of winter.
It won’t just be an exercise in endurance, but also bladder control. The frigid waters means Swain will have to wear thermal underwear under neath his protective gear — preventing him from taking a leak for what is expected to be a nearly three-hour plunge.
“One of the major logistical concerns for this swim is that I’ll have to hold it,” said Swain.
In additional to his long johns, Swain will don both dry and hazardous materials suits before lowering himself into the oily rainbow sheen of Newtown Creek’s headwaters just north of the Grand Street Bridge.
From there, Swain and his safety crew will embark on the more than three-mile journey to the East River, during which the stinky swimmer and his party will stop periodically to take samples and perform various tests to document the creek’s sickly state.
This swim won’t just be longer, it will also be more treacherous — the many millions of gallons of oil contained in the waters of Newtown Creek will likely eat away at the latex that seals his hazmat suit, rendering it useless following the plunge, he said.
“Because oil dissolves rubber, it’s going to massively shorten the lifespan of all my gear — my gloves, my boots, everything,” said Swain.
There is no legal barrier barring Swain from his daredevil dive, but the Environmental Protection Agency has sent Swain a strong condemnation, noting the side effects of swimming the toxic waterway.
“EPA strongly advises against swimming in the creek,” the letter reads. “Swimming in the waters of the Newtown Creek pose a risk from exposure to sire related hazardous chemicals as well as sewage discharge.”
It is Swain’s hope that his adventure in sewage will draw attention to the slow-moving Superfund cleanup of the creek, and make sure the feds don’t stop scrubbing until it is sparkling.
“What I’m concerned about is a situation where it drags out for a long time and we end up with a partial cleanup,” said Swain. “The finish line for the cleanup needs to be the same as Gowanus, in that it’s safe to swim everyday.”
The Gowanus Canal, known as Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, is widely considered the single most polluted waterway in New York City, if not the country.
But Newtown Creek, once a busy shipping lane lined with some 50 oil refineries, is a close second thanks to the millions of gallons of oil that Exxon Mobil and others spilled into the waterway over the past century.
Making matters worse, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant commonly overflows during heavy rain, during which sewage pipes purge thousands of gallons of their fecal-filled contents, along with all the virulent bacteria it contains, into the water.