The NYC Dept. of Envionrmental Protection (DEP), under a consent order from the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have installed an aeration system in Newtown Creek to raise dissolved oxygen levels in the water above a required level of 3 mg/L to allow for fish survival. The system consists of blower buildings which pump air through long plastic pipes that sits on the creek floor. Currently, 1/3 of total proposed project is installed, the NC-2 section that covers most of English Kills. Over the next few years the city plans to install two other sections: NC-3 which runs from a blower building in Maspeth and NC-4 which is focussed on Dutch Kills and the lower Newtown Creek (see map here).

Since 2011, Newtown Creek Alliance and various partner organizations, including Riverkeeper, have sought to challenge the aeration project in Newtown Creek. To date, we have raised a number of concerns about the project including:

The potential health impacts caused by aerosolizing bacteria and chemical contaminants that lie within the sediments and water column of Newtown Creek, a federally designated superfund site. DEP, DEC and Dept. of Health have all acknowledged the possibility of releasing pollutants into the air column but not taken action to properly assess it’s impact.

Poor investment of $115 million to treat symptoms of a problem and not the actual cause, which is primarily the discharging of untreated sewage via CSOs.

Lack of long-term plan for use of the aeration system. We have requested that further installation of the project be delayed until 2017 when the Long Term Control Plan for Newtown Creek is due. Additionally, we have questioned the value of pursuing a project that only addresses DO levels, when it is very likely that water quality standards, of which the consent order is based, may soon be upgraded to also include bacteria levels. If this is the case then aeration alone will not fulfill the consent order.

Lack of engagement with communities that live near to and use the Creek for various purposes. To date, there has been no public meeting focussed solely on aeration and recent requests by community activists and elected officials alike have been declined.

Reliance on a mechanical solution that consumes electricity thus contributing to further release of  greenhouse gases. We continue to urge the agencies to consider more natural solutions that can be more cost effective and have a positive environmental impact in addition to improving DO levels.

Unclear evidence on the need for aeration and effectiveness of the system in place. In examining recent DO levels from areas of the main channel of the Creek, we found that water is above the 3 mg/L threshold most of the time already, and at higher levels than other areas of NY Harbor (2014 data and 2015 data). If this is the case, then why pursue such an expensive operation? The community has also been very concerned with the lack of data transparency regarding the system and its impacts.

As of 2015 the aeration system is fully installed within the English Kills tributary (NC-2) and plans are underway for East Branch (NC-3) and expansion into the main channel of Newtown Creek and the Dutch Kills tributary (NC-4). It is our hope to re-open conversations with the NYC DEP and NYS DEC and engage greater community comment on these further expansions of the project before they are finalized and built. Below is more background on our dealings with this issue. Click here to see video of aeration in progress.

Formal letters to and from agencies:

March 22, 2016 letter from NCA/Riverkeeper to USACE

August 28th, 2015 letter from DEC/DEP to NC CAG and NCA

June 11th, 2015 letter from NC CAG to DEC 

June 9th, 2015 letter from NCA to DEC 

February 11, 2015 letter from NCA to DEP and DEC 

April 3rd, 2014 response letter from DEP to Riverkeeper

January 10th, 2014 letter from Riverkeeper/NCA/NBBC to DEP 

March 9th, 2012 letter from NCA to DEC

March 9th, 2012 letter from Riverkeeper to DEC

November 18th, 2011 letter from NCA to DEC

Previous press and references:

2012 research study by Elias Dueker and Greg O’Mullan

2012 Riverkeeper post regarding potential health risk


Brooklyn Paper

Queens Chronicle