It’s official: Newtown Creek dirtier than Gowanus Canal!

It’s official: Newtown Creek dirtier than Gowanus Canal!
Photo by Louise Wateridge

The filthiest waterway in Brooklyn isn’t the Gowanus Canal — it is Newtown Creek!

So says the only man who could possibly know for sure: Christopher Swain, the one person in history to successfully swim both toxin-filled inlets.

And he made the announcement minutes after emerging from the so-called water of Newtown Creek — which he swam from end to beginning (or beginning to end, depending on how you look at it) on Wednesday.

“That’s definitely the worst water I’ve ever been in. Not even a question,” Swain told The Paper before going on a “This is Spinal Tap”-inspired speech about just how filthy the waterway is. “Everything is turned up to 11. The petroleum was at 11, the sewage was at 11, the industrial weird smell is at 11, the floating trash is at 11. It’s cartoonishly bad and palpably worse in every way then the Gowanus.”

The daredevil diver described his latest bath in toxins in vivid detail at a press conference that followed the pungent plunge, and related spectacles that included poop mixed with leaves and a tea bag, along with Coney Island whitefish (that’s condoms) and “a lot of trash.”

“Right away when we got onto the water, the smell of poo was so strong I actually started to feel like I was going to vomit, and that didn’t happen on the Gowanus,” Swain explained. “And then as we started, I noticed there were literally chunks of poo in the water, floating.”

Swain’s swim through the revolting creek, where city pipes routinely purge thousands of gallons of raw sewage whenever it rains, was particularly nasty thanks to the fact it showered the day before, and the rain continued on and off Wednesday.

During his swim through the Gowanus in October, Swain was surrounded by a frothy concoction of emulsified grease, fats, and oils, which he likened to the soapy layer of a bubble bath.

The same greasy foam wasn’t in Newtown Creek, but he said the stink of sewage was strong throughout and that oil pollution was much more prevalent, especially around the creek’s headwaters near the Grand Street Bridge in Greenpoint.

The daredevil diver got a mouthful of water at two points during the nearly three-hour swim, forcing him to rinse his mouth with hydrogen peroxide, and oily water slipped through his goggles and got into his left eye, causing a burning sensation.

Swain says he’s not eager to get back into the creek, but that’s exactly what he’s going to do sometime in January.

Today’s swim saw Swain navigate the Newtown’s East Branch tributary, and the creek proper. However, he still plans on swimming English Kills, Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, and Maspeth Creek, the creek’s four remaining branches.

The daredevil dove in to draw attention to the waterway and galvanize the support necessary clean it up.

“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 creek, named a federal “Superfund” site in 2010 is one of the most polluted waterways in the northeast, containing a toxic mix of chemicals that have leaked from its industrial banks in both Brooklyn and Queens for more than 150 years.

— with Louise Wateridge

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Sewage for breakfast: Swain did his best to keep his head above water during his nearly three-hour early morning swim through Newtown Creek, but the superfund’s noxious, sewage-filled waters did get into his mouth on two occassions, forcing him to stop and gargle with hydrogen peroxide.
Photo by Louise Wateridge