Heavy metal: City cleared to dump millions of gallons of partially treated, contaminated water into Coney Island Creek

Outcry: Experts and locals including Pamela Pettyjohn fear that the massive amount of filtered contaminated groundwater the city will pour into Coney Island Creek will lead to flooding and harm those who use the waterway.
Brooklyn Daily
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

The state has approved a permit for the city to pour up to 7.2 million gallons of filtered, contaminated groundwater into Coney Island Creek every day for up to two years while the city upgrades sewer and water mains in Coney’s west end.

The permit allows the city to overlook nearly a dozen heavy metals found in the water because only small amounts were discovered in the creek, and state officials say locals have nothing to fear because Coney creek flows into Gravesend Bay, which will dilute the pollutants. But with millions of gallons gushing into the inlet each day for years, experts and locals fear that the contaminates could amass to dangerous levels, and aren’t buying the state’s argument that being connected to a large body of water will mitigate the risks.

“Dilution is not the solution to pollution. That has been proven time and time again,” said Shawn Dickson, an attorney with a background in marine science who works with Riverkeeper — an environmental organization dedicated to cleaning up New York waterways. “They should not be relying on dilution to flush out the pollution. The only solution to pollution is no pollution.”

The $180-million dollar project being run by the Economic Development Corporation will upgrade aging water mains and storm and sanitary sewers in an area bounded by W. 17th and W. 22nd streets from Neptune Avenue to the Boardwalk — something locals have been demanding for years.

Shovels are expected to hit the ground this summer and the project will last for roughly two years — with an embargo on Surf Avenue construction from May 15 to Sept. 15 so as not to clash with the swell of beach-goers, according to city records.

But to keep the construction site dry, the city applied for a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to “dewater” contaminated groundwater from several sites by pumping it into Coney Island Creek — where people swim, students routinely wade for city-run education programs, and some congregations use the waters for religious rites such as baptisms.

A contractor — Haks Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors — will treat the water with a three-pronged process known as filtration, sedimentation, and carbon absorption that will sift grime out of the water and trap many of the pollutants — including the cancer-causing benzene, toluene, and xylene — that have seeped into the soil over the years.

But per the state’s permit, Haks will not monitor several toxic metals including arsenic, antimony, and vanadium because testing found the compounds to be within water-quality standards, according to state records.

The Economic Development Corporation defended the plan, stressing that the water discharged will meet state safety standards.

“Discharging water is typical for these types of construction projects, and our Coney Island efforts will be rigorously filtered, tested, and re-filtered if necessary, to ensure we are discharging safe amounts of water at levels that strictly adhere to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations,” said spokesman Ryan Birchmeier.

And state officials feel it is unlikely that the metals will build up to dangerous concentrations per cubic foot of water within the inlet, said an official at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We do modeling to figure out if the levels in the water are going to violate quality standards,” said Koon Tang, the director of the state’s Bureau of Water Permits. “If you’re asking me if the metal is going to slowly accumulate, I don’t anticipate that is going to happen in this case.”

But with a man-made flood of biblical proportions pouring into the creek every day for years, the city would be remiss not to monitor the heavy metals, especially considering the creek’s toxic history, said Dickson.

“Even small concentrations pose a risk that could be mitigated or avoided,” said Dickson. “At some point, I take the profession­als’ word for it, however, in places like Coney Island Creek, with everything going into the creek, if this was listed as a superfund site the [Environmental Protection Agency] would probably say no to this, because it’s a new source of pollution.”

Koon said the state is relying on tidal flushing to wash the compounds out and mix with Gravesend Bay — but that’s an unreliable method, said Dickson.

“There’s no water system that gets flushed perfectly every day,” he said. “There are parts that sit stagnant, the sediments can capture oil and contaminates, water gets trapped in boats. That can’t be relied on.”

The state’s permit allows for a flow of up to 5,000 gallons per minute from 14 locations — enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in less than 10 minutes — to be diverted to a storm drain at W. 21st Street and Neptune Avenue, where the water will spew into the creek.

And officials have allowed for a deluge of up to 7.2 million gallons per day to gush into the creek — that’s more than the biggest tank at the world’s largest aquarium, a 6.3 million vat in Georgia that holds a whole ecosystem of marine life including whale sharks.

It is an alarming amount that opens up the floodgates to a slew of problems, said one local environmental advocate.

“The problem is the volume of water is just unbelievable. It’s like filling up a bathtub and being surprised when it overflows,” said Pamela Pettyjohn, the president of the environmental civic group the Coney Island Beautification Project. “We’ve got problems with flooding now, and in some places the water is right next to houses.”

But most troubling of all is the city and state’s lack of transparency with locals, said Pettyjohn.

“We’ve had so many meetings on this with the city and the state. They say, ‘Everything is taken care of,’ but they never mentioned how much water and that they weren’t testing for these metals,” said Pettyjohn. “If it was harmless, it wouldn’t have done any harm to for us to know. We found out from you and I have a big problem with that.”

Birchmeier said that test results will be made available to the public, and the agency will continue to try and address locals’ concerns.

“We will be regularly posting test results on our website and look forward to continued conversations with the community as we deliver these important upgrades to Coney Island,” he said.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reader feedback

JimBob says:
Sure, why not. They are already bulldozing the shopping center with contaminants from the old gas company. Dump on the area some more. Perhaps we need some new local leadership who actually fights for the community. Not just the city council but assembly and state senator who isn't based in Staten Island.
July 6, 2017, 3:49 am
jw says:
Amazing. The same peopel who yell and scream Coney Island floods with rain yell and scream when the city tries to stop flooding. The same ones who yell and scream they want ferries in the creek yell and scream the creek is poisoned.Now the biggest yeller and screamer Mark Treyger will come anmd say all ths was planned before he was here and he would hav e done it all much better.
July 6, 2017, 8:47 am
Concerned neighbor from Coney Island says:
The dumping of polluted groundwater is strictly related to the construction of new housing that the EDC is building in a flood zone on what was formerly part of the amusement area. Coney Island Creek cannot support "millions of gallons" of toxic groundwater being pumped into it every day. The waterway is not a river, it's a narrow tidal creek with very little flushing action. This is a CRIMINAL ACT by EDC against a community that uses the four public parks located on the creek for recreation and fishing. They should be ashamed of themselves for saying that they're "improving" the community. They are KILLING the community. This atavistic act demonstrates how little they care about the people who live near the waterway and the people who eat the fish from the creek. The ill-conceived dewatering project demonstrates an extreme level of depravity by EDC and will reverse years of progress made in cleaning up Coney Island Creek.
July 6, 2017, 9:24 am
Ronaldo from Gravesend says:
Hate to say I told you so but look what Mark Treyger did here! He just sold out Coney Island!
July 6, 2017, 9:29 am
Gladys from Coney Island says:
Ronaldo since when is Mark Treyger in charge of the state? You have an unhealthy obsession with the man. Where is Cuomo?
July 6, 2017, 10:01 am
Ronaldo from Gravesend says:
Cuomo is in Albany and Mark Treyger lives in a gated community cut off from the rest of Coney Island.
July 6, 2017, 10:30 am
Scott S. from Coney Island says:
Treyger to blame Bloomberg, De Blahzio and Dominick Recchia in 4...3...2...1...
July 6, 2017, 12:38 pm
Lewis Solomon says:
I am literally starting to loose count on how many catastrophic environmental disasters have happened while Mark Treyger was looking the other way

The Gravesend Park Garbage Dump And Waste X-FER Station...... The Bayside Fuel and Oil Spill.... The Never-ending Coney Island Creek toxic waste....... live munitions scattered across Gravesend Bay and now THIS ????? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
July 6, 2017, 12:50 pm
Anonymous says:
In 2012, Coney Island residents were furious that the city was not upgrading storm sewers:
July 6, 2017, 1:49 pm
Ronaldo from Gravesend says:
Treyger/developer plan maybe? Get poor folks to leave, developers swoop in, all of a sudden no more environmental disasters and in 4 years, Treyger and buddies get rich.
July 6, 2017, 2:01 pm
John from Coney Island says:
The members of the CIBP don't understand the infrastructure project that is being done in Coney Island.
CM Treyger should have known exactly what is being done as Chair of the Resiliency committee in the City Council.
He should have pushed back on the assertions of the CIBP.
What is he going to do now ? Do another Rally at the Creek ?
The CIBP is only showboating.
CM Treyger will also do the same and hitch his wagon to the
ill informed CIBP.
July 6, 2017, 4:20 pm
JimBob says:
Anyone challenging Treyger I the primary? Is there a Republican candidate or are they going to pull that nonsense where they only run a conservative party in the general? The fix could be in again. Someone please run.
July 6, 2017, 5:46 pm
Concerned neighbor from Coney Island says:
The commenter who say that the community "screamed" to stop flooding is just using demagoguery and twisted reason to avoid the real issue here. There are other ways to repair a sewer system without shoving toxic waste down the throats of the community. The poison water could be transferred to a pumping station to be cleaned and released. This is all about doing the job on the cheap at the expense of the thousands of people who live near the creek who will be affected by the poisons being released into this waterway. Some things never change!
July 6, 2017, 6:56 pm
Anonymous says:
Please re-read the article. It says that the water will be filtered and tested prior to release and that it will meet NYS standards: "Discharging water is typical for these types of construction projects, and our Coney Island efforts will be rigorously filtered, tested, and re-filtered if necessary, to ensure we are discharging safe amounts of water at levels that strictly adhere to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations,” said spokesman Ryan Birchmeier."
July 6, 2017, 8:05 pm
Concerned neighbor from Coney Island says:
Anonymous, if you believe all claims made by government officials with a political agenda and a construction deadline, then I feel sorry for you. We've been through this before and are tired of being burned! Just shut your eyes and be happy! Maybe you want to go for a swim by the outfall to prove your point?
July 6, 2017, 8:17 pm
John from Coney Island says:
Concerned neighbor from Coney Island......
Instead of blogging your BS , why don't you become an
activist and rally the troops and demonstrate this week
at Coney Creek ?
I am 100% sure that CIBP and CM Treyger would join that
demonstration .
S..t or get off the pot.
Showboat like they do!!!
July 6, 2017, 9:39 pm
Concerned neighbor from Coney Island says:
Okay, Johnny Boy,

Hope the "showboat" doesn't sink from the crap they're pumping into the creek! (the S..t is already there)

See you there!
July 6, 2017, 9:59 pm
Anonymous says:
@Neighbor. Unfortunately, people are already swimming at the outfalls and eating the fish they catch there, despite warning signs. Since you brought up political agendas, what have the local politicians done to clean up Coney Island Creek? We've heard about ferry service from Coney Island Creek, flood gates in Coney Island Creek and a bridge across Coney Island Creek. Have you heard any of them announce a clean up plan for Coney Island Creek? No. My eyes are certainly open Neighbor and I see this and more.
July 6, 2017, 11:08 pm
Ronaldo from Gravesend says:
Simply put, Councilman Mark Treyger is the least effectual member of the City Council and that's saying something with this council!
July 7, 2017, 9:29 am
John from Coney Island says:
Hey neighbor,
I would advise you to go back to the classroom and educate yourself about environmental issues.
You actually are an uneducated fool.
Your only contribution to your neighbors is to be a rabble riser.
No solutions just insults.
Your intellectual ability is quite limited.
July 7, 2017, 10:12 am
Concerned neighbor says:
Hey John,
Have fun in your bubble. Hope it doesn't burst.
July 7, 2017, 12:46 pm
Coney Island Resident from Coney Island says:
Sincerely hope this does not lead to the poisoning of our Michigan
July 7, 2017, 1:32 pm
Katya Cucco from Bay Ridge says:
Please read my 70 point plan to solve world hunger and clean up Coney Island creek
July 7, 2017, 1:45 pm
Robert Adamski from Bay Ridge says:
Good examples of why nothing gets done in NYC.
July 7, 2017, 4:33 pm
Swimmer from Seagate, Coney Island says:
Now i understand why the water smells funky periodically in Seagate. It is also dirty like NEVER BEFORE. Wonder if all these permits would be approved if the families if all these officials lived in the area and their kids would frequent Coney Island beach. Thousands if people come here in the summer to spend time kn the beach and it ridiculous that this area is even zoned for these kinds of actions. Bet no such thing is going on in Hamptons or any upscale NYC area. These water safety reports could very well be conducted and paid for by the investors and results could very well be adjusted to be favorable for them.
At this rate in due time NY will turn into a miseable getto of those who just can't afford to get the hell out of here.
July 7, 2017, 5:08 pm
Loddi says:
Any primary challengers in the local council races?
July 8, 2017, 2:01 am
DALE from 23th st says:
I love Coney Island
Is there a protest or rally? If so please post it so we can
show how we feel.
July 10, 2017, 11:20 pm

Comments closed.

Schneps Community News Group

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: