Thousands of Gallons of Oil Dumped Into the Dutch Kills Tributary This Summer


    Oil on Newtown Creek is an old story, but when there are fresh rainbow colors like you see in the shot of Dutch Kills above, there’s nothing historic about it. That’s newly released material, and it’s been a big problem all summer.

    First, for those of you unfamiliar with the place, Dutch Kills is Long Island City’s own tributary of Newtown Creek. Its junction with the main body of the Creek is found roughly .8 of a mile from the East River, and it terminates at 47th Avenue – just a block or so away from the Citigroup building on Jackson Avenue at Thomson.

    Throughout the summer of 2014, reports of fresh oil sheens have been reported along Newtown Creek. My colleague in the Newtown Creek Alliance, Greenpoint’s Will Elkins, has documented this event, and interacted with NYS Department of Environmental Conservation investigators to determine the point source from which this material is emanating.

    Yesterday, the DEC found that point source on Dutch Kills, and probably found the polluter who has been illegally dumping literally thousands of gallons of oil directly into the water all summer.

    More after the jump…


    An official statement on the matter, as supplied by NYS DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes reads:

    State Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Conservation Officers are actively investigating this and earlier incidents of oil sheens and black oil slicks on Newtown Creek. DEC is working with the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete the cleanup.

    Beginning in August, sheens began appearing in Dutch Kills, a tributary to Newtown Creek in Queens, which were similar to earlier slicks found in the spring at the Pulaski Bridge, farther west on Newtown Creek.

    After receiving an anonymous report of a spill on Monday, DEC spill responders and Environmental Conservation Officers investigated a potential source of discharges to Newtown Creek.

    DEC deployed a sorbent boom along the Borden Island Bridge, south of the discharge point to contain oil that was rapidly dissipating on the Dutch Kill. DEC also contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which brought in a private contractor to place a hard boom and additional sorbent both upstream and downstream of the source.


    The suspected “point source” is in LIC, at a yard drain found behind the Sparks Deli on Borden Avenue at 28th Street. That’s it, in the shot above. The story, as unofficially transmitted to me, is that an anonymous tipster alerted the NYS officials to this spot. An oil tanker truck was observed emptying itself into the drain by the tipster. Allegedly, the perpetrator was confronted by DEC investigators, who denied his involvement. Nevertheless, DEC investigators began to exercise their considerable powers, called in the Coast Guard, and began both a clean up and the forensic collection of evidence for later prosecution.

    Back channel and insider information suggests that this particular event discharged some 2-3,000 gallons of waste oil into the water during this event alone. For more on NYS DEC’s Spill Investigation Unit, click here.


    The drain itself smelled strongly of petroleum, and there was still a bit of the stuff in there. Environmental contractors were on the scene when I visited, and using a vacuum truck to slurp it up. Coast Guard personnel were also on scene. The yard drain is connected directly to the water, with no sewage treatment plant between it and the environment, and a plume of oil was observable exiting the outfall pipe on Dutch Kills, found alongside the Long Island Expressway.


    Sorbent Booms, as the name would suggest, are fabricated from an absorbent material which oil in particular is attracted to. They have been deployed on the stretch of Dutch Kills between the Borden Avenue and Hunters Point Avenue Bridges.

    The NYS DEC will likely be filing charges against the RP (Responsible Party) for their actions once the evidence is fully collected and processed. The agency does not comment on such matters while they are still investigating, I am told.

    You may notice, at the left hand side of the shot, there are contractors installing the Sorbent Booms from a small boat.


    On the stretch of Dutch Kills between the LIRR Montauk Cutoff rail bridges and the Borden Avenue Bridge, you’ll notice a hard boom. It’s a more robust “catch all” designed to keep surface hugging materials in place. The hard boom is there to keep oil or tar from migrating out of Dutch Kills to the main body of Newtown Creek and the East River beyond.


    An egret sat atop one of the “dolphins” at Dutch Kills as I was leaving the spot yesterday afternoon. It was picking off fishes who were corralled by the booms. An easy day to be an egret, I guess, except for the oil.

    A depressing bit of LIC news, of course, but there’s a bit of good stuff to take away from all this. Will Elkins and the North Brooklyn Boat Club folks spotted an ongoing spill and reported it to the correct authority. The correct authority did its duty in an expeditious and careful manner. The alleged bad guy was caught red (or black) handed. This kind of stewardship over the Newtown Creek and its tributaries, by concerned citizens and officialdom alike, is exactly what Newtown Creek Alliance is all about.

    A special and heartfelt note of appreciation and respect is offered to Randall W. Austin, Chief, Spill Response Programs, Region 2 (NY City) Office, who led the investigation. Mr. Austin made some of his time available for NCA a while back. He schooled all of us on how to recognize a fresh spill from a historic one, and he is one of the unsung municipal heroes that ensure that NYS is as free of oil pollution as possible.

    If you spot oil on the water anywhere in NYC, call the DEC 24 Hour Spill Hotline 1-800-457-7362 (within NY State) or (518) 457-7362 (outside NY State).

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

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