Study: Newtown Creek safe for kayaking, dangerous for swimming, iffy for seafood

City tightens ban on Newtown Creek kayaking
Photo by Moses Gates

Boating on Newtown Creek is safe, but be careful around the seafood and don’t take a dip, a new state study concluded.

Kayaking in the putrid Greenpoint waterway is not dangerous as long as paddlers avoid drinking or touching the water and do not schedule boat outings after big rainstorms, when raw sewage floods the creek, according to state health and environmental officials analyzed water and sediment samples along the 3.8-mile waterway.

“Because people do not usually submerge their heads in the water during these activities, the presumed volume of incidental water consumption is lower than swimming, and subsequently, the risk of illness can also be assumed to be lower,” the researchers said.

Brooklynites should be wary about eating anything they catch in Newtown Creek because of high bacteria levels, said state scientists, who recommended that women under age 50 and children under age 15 refrain from consuming any fish caught in the waterway. Men over age 15 and women over age 50 should limit their intake of North Brooklyn seafood at one meal of bluefish, carp, and bass per month, and no more than six crabs per week, the study said.

Greenpoint boaters welcomed the news.

“The report confirms what we have always believed, that with simple precautions the creek is relatively safe for kayakers and canoers,” said Dewey Thompson, founder of the North Brooklyn Boat Club.

The Environmental Protection Agency required the state to assess the health and environmental risks of Newtown Creek after the federal agency declared the waterway a Superfund site — meaning it will undergo an extensive cleanup implemented by the feds and funded by the polluters — in September 2010.

Two months later, the Department of Environmental Protection suspended boating on Newtown Creek until the agency could obtain more public health data, angering environmental watchdogs.

The ban was lifted last spring, but the city bickered with community activists over the health and safety risks for recreational boating and pressured state officials to stall funding for a proposed Greenpoint boathouse. The state approved the boathouse last October and its health assessment confirmed that kayaking does not hold significant health risks.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection did not immediately return requests for comment.

Environmental activists called on government agencies to continue testing on the creek and add signage to alert residents about fishing risks.

“Much more needs to be done to educate everyday fishermen about these hazards so they don’t put the health of their children or families at risk by consuming fish or crabs that may be toxic to their health,” said Mike Schade, an organizer with the Center for Health and Environmental Justice.