Bizarre discovery in Newtown Creek: 216 plastic bags of black goo

‘Somebody Went to a Lot of Trouble to Get Rid of Something in Not the Normal Way’

September 16, 2016 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Patrol boat captain John Lipscomb scans Newtown Creek on a previous trip with the Brooklyn Eagle. Eagle file photo by Cody Brooks
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John Lipscomb has come across a lot of unusual sights over the years during his routine patrols of New York’s waterways as Riverkeeper patrol boat captain, but what he saw in Newtown Creek this past Wednesday was one of the more extraordinary findings.

“We got about three-quarters of the way into Newtown Creek and we came on all these little dots on the water,” Lipscomb told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I couldn’t really tell what it was until I got right up on top of it. There were hundreds of these bags, and they were floating with a little air in the corner.

“They had a little bit of residue in them,” Lipscomb said. “That sort of black very fine material, like fine sand. It had a gelatinous feel to it. It had some body to it. It’s just a mystery.”

Lipscomb made the strange discovery around 7:30 a.m. near the Pulaski Bridge. The culprit, according to Lipscomb, must have dumped the bags into the water at the end of Maspeth Avenue where the street meets the creek.

“When we first came on them, they were very tightly clustered, which is striking, because that means we just missed whoever put them in the water,” said Lipscomb. “They couldn’t have been in the water more than a half hour to an hour.

“I have no idea what happened here. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to get rid of something in not the normal way.”

Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization that calls itself “New York’s clean water advocate” and whose mission, according to its website, is “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries.”

Over the course of an hour, Lipscomb and his small crew recovered a total of 216 plastic bags of the viscous material. The captain is confident that many other bags sank to the bottom of the creek.

There were so many containers that Lipscomb exclaimed, “I could have taken a pickup truck to remove them!”

While many Brooklynites know of the Gowanus Canal — arguably one of the dirtiest waterways in America — fewer are aware of Brooklyn’s other almost equally toxic body of water: Newtown Creek.

The 3.5-mile estuary runs through a part of the border between Brooklyn and Queens and along the edges of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg.

After discovering the bags, Riverkeeper alerted the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), who sent a spill response engineer to the scene. The DEC representative took the bags for potential analysis of the sediment and to properly dispose of them.  

“On the garbage collection days in New York City, how many hundreds of thousands of garbage bags are along the curb?” asked Lipscomb. “Nobody is looking inside those bags.

“So whoever put these bags in the water deemed it necessary not to put them out on the curb,” Lipscomb told the Eagle. “I think that it was something that they didn’t want to take any chance being connected with. Why else would someone do something like this?”

Riverkeeper is asking for any information regarding this incident, although Lipscomb is sure that the mystery will go unsolved.

“Somebody went to a lot of trouble for some reason,” said Lipscomb, “and we’ll probably never know what that reason was. But there’s a back story, and I’m sure it’s juicy!”

For more information on how to file a pollution report for one of the city’s waterways, contact the DEC Spills Hotline at 800-457-7362 or visit Riverkeeper’s website


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