Greenpoint

Activist Christopher Swain swims in ‘toilet bowl of bacteria’

December 29, 2015 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Clean water activist Christopher Swain continues his swim in Newtown Creek as the NYPD watches on. Photo courtesy of Christopher Swain

“There were used condoms, turds and sewage, and my eyes were burning underneath my goggles from the oil,” said clean water activist Christopher Swain after swimming the entire 3.5-mile North Brooklyn dumpsite known as Newtown Creek last week.

As Swain described his heinous plunge into the estuary that runs along the edges of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg, his voice shuddered and his description was reminiscent of a nightmare.

Swain made headlines in October when he swam the entire Gowanus Canal — arguably one of the dirtiest waterways in America, also in Brooklyn.

“This was the most polluted swim I’ve done in two decades,” said Swain. “Newtown Creek made the Gowanus seem charming.”

In addition to the Creek’s already atrocious conditions, the rain made the two-hour and 44-minute swim even more dreadful as additional sewage was brought into the creek from the combined sewage overflow.

“Much of the sewage from Lower Manhattan is pumped to Newtown Creek and when that is shared with storm drain sewages it’s a nasty combination.”

Donning his vibrant yellow protective diving suit complete with earplugs, waterproof gloves, flippers, goggles and a red swimming cap, Swain submerged slowly into the discolored water as hordes of news crews and disgusted bystanders peered on.

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After his swim, Swain confirmed that Newtown Creek is in fact dirtier than the Gowanus Canal.

“After my swim, it became apparent that Newtown Creeks is even more impaired and even more of a complicated problem than the Gowanus Canal,” Swain told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“Newtown has all the same problems as the Gowanus, just on a much larger scale,” he added.

In addition to used contraceptive items, other notable pieces of trash included traffic cones, Dunkin Donuts cups, plastic, foam and the infamous rainbow sheen.

That rainbow sheen is caused from the notorious Greenpoint oil spill of 1978, which dispensed between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil into the creek and is the largest oil spill recorded in American History.

Throughout the swim, Swain’s safety crew monitored his heart rate and took water samples, time-lapse videos and GPS locations.

“I hope that my swim shines a light on the condition of the creek,” said Swain. “The missing piece in Newtown Creek is education. We owe it to the kids. Hopefully the kids can understand the scope of the problem and learn how to clean it up.

“I’m not content with a partial cleanup. We have the technology and the know-how to solve these problems.  It’s our federal mandate to have clean water through the Clean Water Act. I want to be able to jump into the creek after work on a hot day without wearing a hazardous suit.”

When asked to respond to those who think he’s crazy for swimming in a “toilet bowl of bacteria and viruses,” as he aptly described it, his answer was simple.

“It’s crazy that we let a waterway in one of the greatest cities and in one of the most advanced societies on earth have this dirty of a waterway. If we can split the atom and put a man on the moon, then we should be able to have clean urban waterways.”

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