Still no answers in Newtown Creek black goo mystery

September 26, 2016 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Plastic bags are lifted out of the water. Photo by John Lipscomb
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Some things in life are better left unknown, but this is not one of them.

On Sept. 14, Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain John Lipscomb came across a bizarre discovery in Newtown Creek: 216 tightly wrapped bags of black goo.

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“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 continued. “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 and his small crew made the strange finding near the Pulaski Bridge just before 7:30 a.m. 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.

And nearly two weeks after Lipscomb’s finding, no one has come forward with information regarding the incident.

“It’s conceivable that someone reading your article or reading our blog post might surface and say, ‘Hey, I saw a person with a whole bunch of bags in a truck in that vicinity on the 14th in the morning,’ but there’s a very slim chance we’re going to ever figure it out,” Lipscomb told the Eagle.

And while the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) did send a spill response engineer to the scene who took the bags in for potential analysis of the sediment and to properly dispose of them, Lipscomb is not confident anything will come from it.

“The DEC did take the bags. I’m not assuming that they will have the capacity and the resources to prioritize this sampling. I’d love to know what’s in the bags, but I wouldn’t blame them if it didn’t rise up as a priority.

“DEC Region Two has New York City under its wings, and there’s certainly a lot of work there,” Lipscomb continued. “In any case, they are using their hazmat disposal system to get rid of the bags if there is something in them that is bad and unsafe for the environment.”

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.”

After almost 15 years of patrolling Newtown Creek, however, Lipscomb says that similar suspicious behavior is common for the 3.5-mile estuary that runs along the edges of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg.

“Newtown Creek is like that,” said Lipscomb. “I remember when we started patrolling in 2002, I would come in early in the morning, just like this, and at the mouth of Newtown Creek we would find 20 to 30 broken wooden pallets. Every day that we came in, we’d go on the East River and you’d see broken pallets stranded on the shoreline here and there, and we couldn’t figure it out.

“And we finally saw a warehouse on the Brooklyn side just east of the Pulaski Bridge, and some guy in the morning would pick up the pallets with a forklift and tip them over the edge,” Lipscomb continued. “All it took was a phone call. ‘Cut that out, please,’ and it stops.

“It would be great fun if someone reading the Eagle’s story or our blog post had some kind of information to lead us to understand what happened here,” said Lipscomb. “That would be great. But I’m not very hopeful of resolving this little mystery.”


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