For Immediate Release

Contact: Scott Sieber 718-888-8747

Thousands of dead fish in Flushing Creek expose misguided pollution fix

Flushing, NY – After thousands of dead fish were found in Flushing Creek earlier this week, City Council Member Peter Koo and environmental advocates today called on the city and state to withdraw and revise plans to chlorinate Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) in Flushing’s waterways.

This past week, staff at the environmental watchdog group, Riverkeeper, filmed massive outfalls flowing directly into the Bay and Creek, and discovered thousands of dead fish floating throughout the Creek.

Advocates today rallied to call on the city and state to withdraw and revise their plans to chlorinate in the Flushing Creek, and build new infrastructure to capture runoff so that it can be treated properly before being dumped into the natural environment.

CM Koo stated, “Today we are calling on the city and state to capture Combined Sewage Overflows, don’t chlorinate! If thousands of fish are dying today before chlorination even begins, imagine how much worse it will be once this misguided ‘solution’ is put into practice. Chlorine is what you put in your swimming pool to kill bacteria, not what you put into a tidal estuary full of precious marine life.

“In this City of water, decades of neglect have left our local waterways dangerously degraded. Burdened by billions of gallons of combined sewage discharges every year, and bounded by crumbling waterfronts and neglected wetlands, New York City’s ‘sixth borough’ is the limiting factor for community, public, and environmental health,” said Sean Dixon, Staff Attorney at Riverkeeper. “The City DEP has made strong steps toward a clean water future in recent years – citywide – action is needed now to protect and restore the Flushing Waterways; chlorination is not the answer for Flushing Creek and 15 years of delayed CSO tunnel construction is not the answer in Flushing Bay. Before our community can grow, we need to break ground on new CSO capture projects, and we need to ensure that those projects capture – not chlorinate – these sources of pollution.”

James Cervino, marine and immunology scientist, stated, “Due to the lack of marine biologists and chemical oceanographers reviewing the DEP and NYSDEC Long Term Control Plan, this will be the example of what is yet to come once this plan is implemented. As development increases and the capacity for the treatment facilities is exceeded, the result will be serious food chain contamination as a direct result of sewage nutrients and chlorine bi-products getting into the water. Due to increased coastal sewage and chemical pollution, virtually every coastal area, including Great South Bay Long Island and in the world is being affected by harmful algal blooms (HABs, commonly called “red tides or brown tides”). The steady release of sewage nutrients, expansion in the use of fertilizers for agricultural production represents a large and worrisome source of nutrients in coastal waters that promote some HABs. These phenomena are caused by blooms of microscopic algae. Some of these algae are toxic, and can lead to illness and death in humans, fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and other oceanic life, typically as a result of the transfer of toxins through the food web. Sometimes the direct release of toxic compounds can be lethal to marine animals. NOAA and its academic partners are collaborating to provide experimental forecasts of the probability of Pseudo-nitzschia blooms and elevated domoic acid levels along the California coast.”

Friends of Flushing Creek Project Consultant Alexandra Rosa, stated, “Its long past time to address the environmental and community impacts of using Flushing Creek as an open sewer. Virtually every time it rains contaminated storm water and raw sewage are dumped into the creek. Friends of Flushing Creek, the local community and our environmental organization partners have all objected to the city’s plan to continue this practice. We stand together with Councilmember Peter Koo to ensure that the continued assault on this waterbody ends. We know that Flushing Creek could hold great potential for recreation and community uses. It’s time to secure that vision.”

“Hundreds of dragon boaters use Flushing Bay every summer, despite the billions of gallons of sewage and stormwater polluting both the Bay and Creek, bringing litter, oils and dead rats with the runoff. The thousands of dead fish washing up on the shores is a clear sign that Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek are not fit for recreation or sustaining wildlife” said Korin Tangtrakul, Coordinator for Guardians of Flushing Bay. “NYC Department of Environmental Protection needs to act now to bring us a better plan to manage sewage overflows in the creek. We need to capture, not chlorinate, CSO! We thank Councilmember Peter Koo for his leadership on this issue, and Riverkeeper for their important documentation of the poor state of Flushing Creek.”

CSOs occur when sewer capacity becomes overwhelmed by heavy rainfall and storm water and untreated wastewater dump directly into the surrounding waterways. Earlier this year, the NYS DEC approved the NYC DEP’s long-term control plans for the Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay. The plans were considered and approved separately, even though the two water bodies flow into each other. For the Flushing Creek, plans call for the chlorination of CSOs in order to disinfect the water. In the Flushing Bay, plans call for the construction of a new tunnel.

In 2009, the city completed construction of a 43 million gallon CSO tank in Flushing, however, even this significant piece of infrastructure quickly becomes overburdened with heavy rains. The resulting outfalls create a noticeably rancid smell throughout communities. In November, 2016, CM Koo asked the DEP to reevaluate its plans for the Flushing Creek before moving forward with the Flushing Bay LTCP. Nonetheless, both plans were approved in March 2017.

Below is the full text of CM Koo’s letter.

November 30, 2016

Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza
New York City Department of Environmental Protection
9605 Horace Harding Expressway
Corona, NY 11368

Re: Flushing Bay CSO Long Term Control Plan

Dear Commissioner Sapienza:

I am writing regarding the Department of Environmental Protection’s Flushing Bay CSO Long Term Control Plan. As the City Council representative for the 20th Council District, the boundaries of my district include the Flushing Creek and its intersection with the Flushing Bay. While the city is considering the Flushing Creek and Bay under separate CSO Long Term Plans, the two bodies of water are interchangeable and flow into each other due to changes in tidal flows. What happens in one affects the other.

I would like to commend the DEP for hosting and participating in several community meetings regarding the Long Term Control Plan, during which stakeholders from the DEP and the community were given an opportunity to have open and honest discussions regarding the long term planning process for sewage outfalls in our communities. This process has been markedly improved over the years, and our community is grateful for the opportunity to have its voice heard.

As you are aware, Flushing is developing at such a rapid rate that it is already outpacing the existing infrastructure on every level of the urban planning spectrum. Our transit, schools, streets, and sewers are all overburdened. In 2007, the city completed construction of a 43 million gallon CSO tank, but even that significant piece of infrastructure quickly becomes overwhelmed by heavy rainfall. New capacity is needed.

In fact, I recently rejected a proposal by City Planning to rezone and encourage the development of an entire swath of western Flushing along the Flushing Creek for new housing, retail and community space opportunities. I rejected these plans reluctantly because although I would love to see these parts of my district flourish under a targeted and strategic rezoning plan, the plans did very little to address the serious infrastructure problems that would be created by thousands of new units, particularly with regard to how it would affect the Flushing Creek and Bay.

To combat continued overflows, the city has proposed chlorinating to kill toxins during parts of the year. Not only does this tactic ignore the capacity problems that stand to worsen with new development, it goes against many of the community’s recommendations. Community Board 7, Flushing Creek and Bay advocates and professors of hydrology and environmental microbiology and water quality have rejected the plan due to similar toxicity and capacity concerns.

At the last LCTP meeting, it was suggested that the Flushing Creek plan be reevaluated before further pursuing a separate plan for the Bay due to concerns over chlorination. I strongly agree with this position given the interconnectivity of the Bay and the Creek. Chlorinating any part of these waterways may pose immediate harm to both, and does nothing to solve the problems with capacity.

Finally, I strongly encourage greater consideration be given to Willets Point and the Citi Field vicinity as potential sites for future storage tanks and grey infrastructure given the proximity to existing Creek and Bay outfall infrastructure. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Peter Koo