Newtown Creek: 19th century industrial waste and 21st century extreme weather events

Authors: Peter Spellane*, New York City College of Technology, Soydan Alihan Polat, NYC College of Technology CUNY
Topics: Economic Geography, Environment, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: industrial wastestream, manufactured chemicals, petroleum refining
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Napoleon B2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Newtown Creek, a modest waterway at the center of modern day New York City, thrived as a center for production of chemicals and refining of petroleum for a century that began as the Civil War ended. Before the War, an early industrial economy had developed there around the processing of animal tissues: glue from horse hooves, fertilizer from bones, and tallow from fat. Large-scale production of sulfuric acid and related chemicals began there in the 1840s. In 1855 the Creek became home to the country’s largest coal oil refinery. As petroleum displaced coal as source for kerosene, the scale of both chemicals production and oil refining at Newtown Creek grew quickly. Metal refining began at Newtown Creek near the end of the 19th century and continued through World War II. The chemicals and petroleum industries generated and left in place significant waste stream. Newtown Creek is an active EPA Superfund site; data generated in the site’s Remedial Investigation provide measure of the site’s contamination. On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy flooded low-lying parts of New York City including areas adjoining Newtown Creek. This paper seeks to correlate locations of industrial production at Newtown Creek with locations and amounts of creek-bed contaminants in an area that is vulnerable to flooding in extreme weather events.

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