Newtown Creek Health Study
A public health study has begun to record widespread stories of people who lived near the heavily polluted Newtown Creek and developed a deadly illness.
Funded by a $46,000 state grant, the study will focus on three neighborhoods along the creek’s industrialized shores – Greenpoint and East Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and Maspeth in Queens.
The so-called Newtown Creek Community Health & Harm Narratives Project has trained six community members in oral history methods, said lead investigator Rachael Weiss, 29, of East Williamsburg.
The volunteers will interview residents and family members, producing at least 50 narratives that will be woven into a final report due early next year.
The study comes as the Environmental Protection Agency analyzes whether to include Newtown Creek – site of one of the largest oil spills in American history – in the federal Superfund cleanup program.
The neighborhoods along the contaminated creek are plagued by industrial pollution. Greenpoint, in particular, suffers from underground toxic chemical plumes. This year, the state made the plumes a Superfund site, paving the way for a state-funded cleanup and action against the polluters.
Weiss, who recently received a master’s degree in public health, said she hopes the study will spur residents to fight for environmental justice.
“When you have a community that has been ignored for so long, people have a tendency to back down,” she said.
Lifelong Greenpoint resident Laura Hofmann, 51, said both her parents, who lived on Java St., died of rare brain diseases. Her sister and brother developed rare blood disorders, though there was no record of such diseases in the family.
“To me, it’s impossible for it to be caused by anything else but the environment,” said Hofmann, who suffers from lupus and fibromyalgia.
Tom Stagg, 60, another Greenpoint resident, said about 35 people on Diamond St. where he grew up have developed cancer or other diseases. Only 11 survived.