End of Year Report


The bodies of water that surround New York City serve several purposes. They serve as a food source to different organisms, provide habitats for many marine organisms, serve as a means of transportation, and are even used for recreational purposes. Over the years these bodies of water have been continually used as transportation routes and dumpsites. While environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, have put a stop to the industrial waste and sewage that used to be dumped into the waterways, there are still many contaminants and pollutants present because of runoff and pollution. For the purpose of this study three specific bodies of water around Brooklyn were looked at. These bodies of water were the Gowanus Canal and Coney Island Creek which lead into the New York Harbor and the Newtown Creek which leads into the East River.

The Gowanus Canal is located in Brooklyn, New York and is about 1.8 miles long. It borders neighborhoods such as Park Slope, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill. This canal is known to be one of the country’s most polluted bodies of water because of runoff, sewer overflows, and discharges that have all been a part of the canal’s past.1 The Gowanus Canal was originally known as the Gowanus Creek and the surrounding area was mostly farms and mills.2 It wasn’t until after borough of Brooklyn began to grow that the creek became a canal. The Gowanus Canal was built from 1853 to 1869 with the purpose of draining the wetlands of Southern Brooklyn, to open up the area for development, and to promote industry and commerce in the area.1, 2

Upon its completion, the Gowanus Canal was useful as it provided an easy means for the transportation of cargo into and out of the surrounding area. The canal was used as a means of transportation until 1951 when the construction of the Gowanus Expressway was completed.1 The land around the canal was used for coal yards, for the storage of petroleum, asphalt, and lumber, and for manufacturing plants. The three main manufacturing gas plants along the Gowanus Canal were the Fulton MPG site, Former Citizens Gas Works MPG site, and the Metropolitan Gas Light Company MPG site. These all contributed to the pollution as these sites used the canal to dump their industrial waste, and they are thought to be the main source of most of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in the canal today.2 The Gowanus Canal was also the center for sewage disposal, dating back to 1858, as sewers were built that emptied directly into the canal. Due to the sheltered and isolated nature of the canal, and the lack of water exchange with the rest of the Hudson River, the contaminants settled causing sedimentation and poor water quality.

Over the years various steps were taken to eliminate and prevent the contamination of the Gowanus Canal. Storm sewer outfalls that drained the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn were built in 1899 in order to help with the pollution problem, but instead of improving the pollution problem the conditions worsened. A solution, known as the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel, was designed and implemented to clean the canal’s water for the first half of the 1900s. This was done by using a propeller to pull the water through an underground tunnel towards the East River and dumping it at the mouth of the canal.1 Overall, the tunnel added 300 million gallons of water to the canal daily from 1911 to 1960 and did a fairly good job of cleaning out the canal. But when the system failed in the 1960s, the Gowanus Canal once again became a site of heavy pollution.1

Due to the fact that the Gowanus Canal has ten combined sewer overflow outfalls and three storm sewer outfalls that discharge into the canal, two treatment plants were built to help with the problem.2 The City of New York built the Gowanus Canal Pump Station in 1947 and the Owl’s Head sewage treatment plant in 1952 to help reduce the sewage discharge.1 However, it was calculated that in 1984 alone 20.6 million gallons of raw sewage and combined sewer overflows were dumped into the Gowanus Canal daily.1 Because of this the Red Hook treatment plant was built in 1987 and the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel was reactivated in 1999.1 It again underwent renovations between 2009 and 2014. These renovations allowed for the replacement of the single propeller with three new pumps with increased the capacity of the tunnel and reduces shutdowns.2 Today the tunnel pumps 154 million gallons of water per day. Gowanus Wastewater Pumping Station also underwent renovations as it now pumps 30 million gallons of water per day into the treatment plant.2 However, as of 2005 there are still 293 million gallons of combined sewer overflows and 59 million gallons of storm water that are annually dumped into the canal.1

Since the canal remained a center of contamination, the Gowanus Canal was named a superfund site in March of 2010 under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.2, 3 Under this act, the City of New York along with the Environmental Protection Agency and National Grid, performed various tests on the canal to determine the extent of the contamination and the possible health risks that could be associated with the results. The Environmental Protection Agency’s solution to the contamination problem was dredging the canal and incorporating two detention tanks at two of the outfalls in the canal to limit the impact of combined sewage overflows.2 National Grid, the City of New York, and about thirty other potentially responsible parties were ordered to help develop and carry out the plans for the cleanup of the canal.2 Today, while the dredging has begun in certain places along the canal, some plans are still being developed and look to be performed within the next couple of years. A sponge park was also built next to the canal to capture storm water and prevent it from reaching the canal, in an attempt to reduce the pollution levels in the canal caused by runoff.

Newtown Creek is located between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in New York, as it forms the northern most border between the two. It is about 3.8 miles long and is considered a tributary to the East River. The creek branches out five times into English Kills, East Branch, Maspeth Creek, Whale Creek, and Dutch Kills before reaching the East River.4 Newtown Creek originally flowed through wetlands and marshes until the area became industrialized. Just like the Gowanus Canal, it is classified as one of the country’s most polluted waterways by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The area around Newtown Creek has been a generally busy area dating back to the mid-1800s. It was then home to over fifty industrial facilities which included coal yards, lumber yards, oil refineries, fertilizer factories, petrochemical plants, sawmills, and glue factories.5  Newtown Creek also had a large number of commercial vessels moving into it to deliver materials, and out of it to transport the oil, chemicals, and metals that were being produced on the waterfront.5 The creek became even more polluted when raw sewage began being dumped into it in 1856 and when Exxon-Mobile contributed to the pollution with oil spills. Multiple oil spills dumped  an estimated 17 million gallons of petroleum, but it could be as much as 30 million gallons, into the eastern end of the creek near Greenpoint and its surrounding land and therefore introduced large amounts of hydrocarbons into the water.4, 6 Back in the early 1990s, the State of New York declared Newtown Creek to have unmet the water quality standards set forth by the Clean Water Act.4 Because of this, Newtown Creek is classified as a saline Class D body of water.4 This means that while the water is suitable for fish, shellfish, and wildlife survival, it is not suitable for primary and secondary contact recreation because of unmet requirements.4 Therefore, the water can still be used for fishing but it is not recommended for recreational activities.

Today, there are still numerous factories and commercial facilities located along Newton Creek. All of which continue to aid in its contamination. One of the main sources of pollution in Newtown Creek are combined sewer overflows. When wet water impacts the city it produces excess water that wastewater treatment plants are not used to and therefore cannot handle. This leads to the untreated sewage and storm water being directly deposited into the creek through combined sewer overflow outfalls. Newtown Creek is known to have twenty-two combined sewer overflow outfalls. However, 90% of the combined sewer overflows that are released into the creek come from four of the twenty-two outfalls.7 These outfalls are located in the Dutch Kills, East Branch, English Kills, and Maspeth Creek areas of the creek. The problem is that these areas are more secluded and provided stagnant conditions. Because of this, the water is not exposed to the normal currents that would remove some of contaminants from the creek. Studies have shown that even one-tenth of an inch of rainfall could cause combined sewer overflows in Newtown Creek.7

According to the Newtown Creek Alliance over 1 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water are dumped into Newtown Creek each year. Millions of gallons of combined sewage overflow are introduced into Newtown Creek from its main branches and other outfalls. The Maspeth Creek section dumps 327 million gallons of combined sewage overflows per year.7 The English Kills section dumps 356 million gallons of combined sewage overflows per year.7 The East Branch section is divided into two sections with one dumping 7 million gallons and the other dumping 314 million gallons of combined sewage overflows per year.7 Finally, the Pulaski Bridge outfall dumps 8 million gallons into Newtown Creek each year.7 These totals only show the discharges from five out of the twenty-two outfalls that contribute to the pollution of the creek. These numbers, combined with the numbers from the other seventeen outfalls and other sources lead to over 1.2 billion gallons of combined sewage overflows being dumped into the creek each year.

Similar to the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek was also named a superfund site in 2011. The City of New York, along with Exxon Mobil, National Grid, BP, Texaco, Phelps Dodge Refining Corporation, and the Environmental Protection Agency all agreed to help investigate and cover the costs associated with the cleanup of Newtown Creek.8 These corporations were all chosen because they either have a current facility along the creek, had a facility on the creek that contributed to the pollution, or contributed to the pollution by any other means over the years. Currently sampling and evaluations are still underway to determine what steps should be taken to clean up the creek.

Coney Island Creek is about 2 miles long and is located in southern Brooklyn. The creek was original surrounded by forests, salt marshes, and freshwater streams where the Algonquian Indians settled and lived off the fish from the creek.9 It was originally known as Gravesend Creek and was a small creek that ended near what today is known as Cropsey Avenue. Coney Island Creek was then transformed into a strait that connected Gravesend Bay and Sheepshead Bay and basically isolated Coney Island into an actual island.10 Due to the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the city, the eastern end of the strait was filled between the 1890s and the 1960s.11 Most of the creek was filled by landfills, and then more of it was filled up to complete the construction of what became Shore Parkway.10 Today the creek is divided into two small inlets on both ends of Coney Island, with only the western inlet being called the Coney Island Creek.

The contamination of the creek can be associated to direct drainage, storm runoff, and illegal discharges into the creek. But sewage is not the only thing that is dumped into the creek as Coney Island Creek is also home to several ghost ships and other nautical vessels. Brooklyn Borough Gas leaked polluting contaminants into the creek when they produced their gas near the creek from the 1890s to the 1950s.10 During their time by the creek, they dumped by-products such as coal tar, volatile organic compounds, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and inorganic compounds into the creek.9 Construction debris from the Verrazano Bridge was also dumped into Coney Island Creek in the 1960s which contributed to the pollution problems.10 Coney Island Creek has fifty permitted and unpermitted discharge pipes and outfalls that dump sewage into it.11 Due to its poor water quality, the State of New York has labeled Coney Island Creek a Class I Waterbody, indicating that it isn’t suited for primary contact such as swimming.11

Developments such as the Avenue V Pumping Station were built from 1911 to 1916 with the purpose of reducing combined sewer overflow discharges into the creek.11, 12 Updates to the station were completed back in 2015. The renovations allow the station to now pump 80 million gallons of sanitary and storm water to Owl’s Head Wastewater Treatment Plant each day, and in the process reduce sewer overflows by eighty-seven percent.12 Back in 2001 and 2002, three feet of sediments were removed from the top layer of the creek.11 The creek was then refilled with three to four feet of clean material. Altogether about 60,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment was removed from Coney Island Creek.11 Other attempts at cleaning up the creek have been hesitant because of the assumptions that moving the shipwrecks could cause the stirring of toxins in the sludge which could possibly be more harmful than just leaving the shipwrecks in place.10 However, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has plans to improve the drainage systems and develop a storm water management program to improve the conditions of Coney Island Creek.11

While there are environmental acts in place to prevent pollution and the disposal of waste into bodies of water, pollution still remains an issue for the Coney Island Creek. Studies have shown that the creek takes in about 290 million gallons of combined sewage overflow and 1,487 million gallons of storm water in a year.9 Commissioner Basil Seggos of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that the department was taking action against the Beach Haven Apartments for illegally dumping sewage into Coney Island Creek back in August of 2016.13 Beach Haven Apartments is being forced to develop a plan to prevent discharge of waste into the creek in the future and pay $400,000 that will go towards different environmental projects and foundations.13 The Department of Environmental Conservation hopes that by taking these measures, they are able to restore Coney Island Creek and its watershed.

            Since pollution was an issue that could be seen in bodies of waters across the United States, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed in 1948. This law established basic rules and regulations for the disposal of pollutants into the different water systems across the country and set forth the quality standards for surface waters as well.14 It was the first law that addressed the issue of water pollution. This Federal Water Pollution Control Act was amended in 1972 and was officially renamed the Clean Water Act.14 The Clean Water Act gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to enforce pollution control, funded the construction of sewage treatment plants, and made it unlawful for individuals to discharge any type of pollutant from a point source into navigable waters unless a permit was obtained from their program.14

Permits can be obtained from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. This program conducts onsite evaluations, produces discharge monitoring reports, and provides assistance to those working with the program. The permits provided by the program allow facilities to dump a specific amount of pollutants into the water under certain conditions. They are divided into two general types: individual and general. Individual permits are used for individual facilities and they are issued for periods shorter than five years.14 General permits are used for multiple facilities or a group that plans on dumping pollutants into the water in the same general location.

Other amendments to the Clean Water Act were made in 1981 to restructure the construction grant process. However, that part of the act was removed in 1987 when the construction grant process was replaced with the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund.14 Although, the implementation of the Clean Water Act has reduced the discharge of pollutants into many bodies of waters across the United States, there are still many illegal discharges and combined sewer overflows that continue to contaminate the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek. Being exposed to this type of contamination increases the possibility of contaminants such as unwanted chemicals and biological organisms being present.

However, combined sewer overflows continue to be an issue as they dump billions of gallons of sewage into these bodies of water each year. Combined sewer overflows occur because of the fact that seventy percent of New York City is served by combined sewer systems.15 Because of this, heavy rainfall causes the system to flood as the water exceeds the normal capacity of the treatments plants. As a result the storm water combines with the raw sewage and is released into the nearest body of water through an outfall without receiving the proper treatment. It has been shown that as little as 0.4 inches of rain can cause combined sewer overflows in New York City.15 The overflows tend to cause algal blooms in the bodies of water, but the issue comes in the aftermath. As the algae die, they take up the dissolved oxygen of the water. Since aquatic life cannot be supported with low levels of dissolved oxygen, the body of water is essentially turned into a dead zone since.15 Therefore, the City of New York has tried to improve the sewer conditions and conducted several studies to see the extent of the contamination in the water.

Over the years studies have been conducted to determine what contaminants are present in the water that fills the Gowanus Canal. These studies have shown that the Gowanus Canal contains biological organisms including fecal coliform bacteria and parasites, coal tar residue, metals, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and debris. However, the most widespread pollutant in the canal are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs.3 These compounds are produced from the incomplete burning of fuels and are suspected to be carcinogens. Studies from 2007 showed that the water of the Gowanus Canal contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).1 Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are known to possibly increase the risk of cancer in an individual if they were exposed to the compounds over a prolonged period.

The presence of lead in the sediments found in and around the canal is also an issue. This can lead to an increase in lead levels in an individual’s blood. A GEI investigation conducted in 2007 showed that the upper and middle reach of the canal had fecal coliforms that exceeded the standard for bathing beaches.1 This indicates that it might be unsafe for individuals to bathe in the water because of the presence of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens in the water. Another study conducted by the environmental protection agency in 2011 showed that concentration of contaminants differed depending on whether the water sample was collected during dry conditions, when there had been no rainfall for at least two days, and during wet conditions, when it had rained within the last two days. This studied showed that contaminants such as benzene, o-xylene, toluene, tetrachloroethene, benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, iron, lead, and selenium were all detected in the samples obtained during wet conditions.1 Out of these, only tetrachloroethene, cobalt, and iron were not detected in the samples obtained during dry conditions.

According to the New York State Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases, individuals should take careful measures when part taking in activities such as swimming, canoeing, scuba diving, or when consuming food that originated from the Gowanus Canal. The Health Department warns individuals, specifically women under fifty years of age and children under fifteen years of age, that eating fish and crabs from the canal could be harmful to their health.5, 16 Fish such as the American eel, the gizzard shad, and white perch should not be consumed by anyone if they are taken out of the Gowanus Canal or any other body of water that is connected to the Upper Bay of the New York Harbor.1, 5 However, fish such as the Atlantic needlefish, blue crabs, bluefish, rainbow smelt, and striped bass may be consumed about once a month by women over fifty and men over fifteen years of age.1 Full body contact with the water, as is done with swimming and scuba diving, could also be harmful to individuals because of the chemicals that are found in the sediments of the canal, as well as physical and biological hazards.

Due to combined sewer overflows, illegal discharges, and runoffs that occur after heavy rain, Newtown Creek continually fails to meet bacterial standards, and also contains viruses and protozoa. Many of the diseases that individuals would be exposed to by coming in contact with these agents are gastrointestinal illnesses including E.coli, shigellosis, hepatitis A, giardia, and cryptosporidiosis.4 The presence of coliform and enterococci have been confirmed by testing water samples and their levels tend to increase after instances of sewer overflows.4 Studies from 2010 showed that in eighteen to fifty percent of the samples collected, the levels of coliform and enterococci exceeded the standard levels.4 Exceeding the standard levels set by New York State indicates that there is a possible increase for the risk of developing gastrointestinal illnesses. And since pathogens such as E.coli, shigellosis, hepatitis A, giardia, and cryptosporidiosis have low infective doses, individuals can become ill from even swallowing the smallest amount of water from the creek.

The presence of chemical compounds and metals such as hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, and cadmium also arises as a health concern. A study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency showed the presence of organic contaminants such as chlorobenzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, isopropyl benzene, bis-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate, and polychlorinated biphenyls.4 The same study showed that the sediments collected from Newtown Creek contained petroleum related compounds.4 But combined sewage overflows not only pose risks to humans, but also impact the wildlife that rely on the creek. The amount of pollution that the creek experiences can cause nutrient imbalances and algae blooms which lead to low levels of dissolved oxygen.7 According to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the levels of dissolved oxygen in the creek have been sometimes measured to be extremely close to zero.4 This makes the survival of organisms in these waters difficult.

The issues of contamination and possible health risks worried community members and therefore the New York State Department of Health conducted a study using data from 1988 to 2010 to determine the adverse birth outcomes and cancer among the individuals living near Newtown Creek.6 The study focused on two general areas: the area within a quarter mile from the creek, and the area between a quarter mile and a half mile from the creek. With respect to birth outcomes, the study looked at birth weight, preterm births, and birth defects. There was no statistically significant increase in birth weights or birth defects, but there was a statistically significant increase in preterm births.6 However, the overall conclusion was that there was no increase in pattern to indicate that the health outcomes of newborns was associated to the environmental exposure to pollutants in the area.6 With respect to cancer, the study showed that the elevations and deficits in cancer were not related to exposure to environmental pollutants in the area.6 While there was a statistically significant elevation in lung, liver, and cervical cancer in the area, the study attributed these increases to the high poverty level of the individuals living in the area. Therefore while the study showed that there was an increase in cancer and preterm births, the studies concluded that the increases were not associated to the contamination that is seen in the Newtown Creek.

Similar to the Gowanus Canal, the New York State Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases, warns that individuals should take careful measures when part taking in activities such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, boat touring, or when consuming food that originated from Newtown Creek. The Health Department warns individuals that eating fish and crabs from the creek could be harmful to their health. It specifically warns women under fifty years of age and children under fifteen years of age.5, 16 Fish such as the American eel, the channel catfish, the gizzard shad, the white catfish, and the tomalley of the blue crab should not be consumed by anyone if taken out of Newtown Creek or any other of body of water that is connected to the East River.4 However, fish such as the Atlantic needlefish, blue crabs, bluefish, carp, goldfish, rainbow smelt, striped bass, and white perch may be consumed about once a month by women over fifty and men over fifteen years of age.4 At Newtown Creek, the Department of Health states that individuals should completely avoid swimming in the creek due to the fact that the waterfront is used mainly by industrial and commercial companies.4

Storm water and sewage overflows tend to be the main sources of pollution at Coney Island Creek, just like at the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek. In 2016 the NYC Department of Environmental Protection released the results found from their studies from earlier years. The study showed that fecal coliform concentrations ranged from 180 to 22,000 colony forming units per milliliter, and that enterococci concentrations ranged from 250 to 6,200 colony forming units per milliliter when dealing with combined sewer overflows.17 It also showed that the creek contains between 1.66 and 5.8 percent total organic carbon distributed among it sediments, indicating the possible presence of organic compounds in the creek.17 Dissolved oxygen readings were also taken and they fell below 3 mg/L, conditions at which hypoxia is known to occur.17 As for total suspended solids, the studies indicate that there are 303,168 pounds of them in the creek.9 Due to these concentrations the water of Coney Island Creek is typically not used for recreational activities.

Chemical and biological contaminants are not the only thing that these bodies of waters are exposed to. They also have components of heavy metals that can be found in both their water and the sediments. For the purpose of this study it is important to understand what nickel, cobalt, and lead are and the possible effect that they can have on both human health and the environment.

Nickel is a silvery-white metal that can be used to create alloys, or mixtures with other metals such as iron, copper, chromium, and zinc.18 These mixtures are important because they are used for the production of valves, heat exchangers, and stainless steel. Nickel can also combine with oxygen, sulfur, and chlorine to produce water soluble compounds that are used to produce batteries and catalysts.18 Issues arise when these compounds and mixtures are released into surrounding bodies of water, when the industry releases its waste water. When it enters the water it can end up in the soil and sediments found in and around the bodies of water. However, it has been shown that nickel does not accumulate in fish, or in small animals living around the water.18 But when exposed to acidic conditions, nickel can seep into ground water where it can eventually reach individuals. Studies have shown that the average concentration of nickel in bodies of water is less than 0.01 ppm and that the concentration in drinking water is typically around 0.002 and 0.0043 ppm.18 These values are typically less than the accepted concentration of nickel which is 0.025 ppm in ground and surface water, and 0.0045 ppm in drinking water.18 However, living near industries that produce and use nickel can cause these concentrations to be higher than recommended. At these locations the nickel concentrations have been recorded to be around 0.072 ppm.18 Common health effects associated with nickel exposure are allergic reactions. More severe effects such as chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and lung cancer can be caused from concentrations about 100,000 times greater than the amount found in drinking water.18

Cobalt is similar to nickel in that it is naturally occurring and that they share similar properties. It is typically found in the environment we it is mixed with sulfur, oxygen, and arsenic, or in water in its dissolved ionic form.19  Cobalt alloys are used for production of military and industrial products, as well as artificial joints, paints, catalysts, and many other products.19 Since cobalt is naturally found in the environment, disposing waste into the environment can cause the presence of high cobalt concentrations. The problem with cobalt is that it cannot be destroyed and therefore only changes its form and becomes attached to other particles in the environment.19 In the water these particles tend to attach to the sediments on the bottom of the body of water or remain as ions throughout the water. Similar to nickel, when cobalt is exposed to acidic conditions it will increase it concentrations in soil and sediment as it becomes more mobile.19

While cobalt is not regulated in the United States, it could be a potential contaminant. The concentration of cobalt in ground water and surface water is typically found to be around 0.001 and 0.01 ppm, and it is around 0.001 and 0.002 ppm in drinking water.19 These concentrations are elevated in mining areas, near smelting operations, and around rich cobalt containing mineral areas. In these areas the concentration of cobalt can be hundreds and thousands times higher than in other bodies of water.19 Cobalt has both beneficial and harmful effects on the health of individuals that come in contact with it. It is beneficial because it makes up part of vitamin B and has even been used to treat anemia.19 However, it can cause harmful effects such as asthma, pneumonia, and wheezing when individuals are exposed to extremely high concentrations.

Lead differs from the two previously discussed metals, nickel and cobalt, in that it is not commonly found naturally in the environment. It is a heavy and low melting metal, and is usually found in lead compounds that are formed when it combines with two or more elements.20 However, similar to nickel and cobalt, lead can form alloys which are used in the manufacturing of pipes, storage batteries, ammunition, cable covers, and radiation protective sheets.20 The problem we face with lead today is that the levels of lead usage have increased over 1,000-fold over the past three centuries because of the increase in human population.20 As a result there is an increase in the amount of lead present in the environment. Lead is introduced into the various bodies of water as soil particles are moved by rainstorms, by runoff, mining pile, and through waste water.20 The lead then remains in the sediment of the water for many years and acidic conditions allow the particles to make their way into groundwater.20 Allowed concentrations of lead in surface water are 0.003 ppm and 0.015 ppm for drinking water.20 However, studies have shown that over ninety-nine percent of drinking water contains less than 0.005 ppm of lead, but these concentrations could be greater in areas where acidic water is common.20 The main issue with exposure to lead is that it attacks the nervous system. It can also cause joint weakness, increased blood pressure, anemia, and at high concentrations can lead to damage of the brain and kidneys.20 Overall, exposure to these metals can have various health impacts on the individuals that are exposed to high concentrations.

As pollution, runoffs, and sewage dumping continue to be an issue, other micro-pollutants and heavy metals may still be present throughout the water of the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek. In order to determine the presence and the different types of micro-pollutants and heavy metals in these bodies of water, water samples from each of the three sites were analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) and atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS).

Materials and Methods

Water Collection

Water samples were collected from each of the three different sites (Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek). The water was collected in two 1 liter containers and transported back to the lab at Pace University-NYC. They were stored in a dark refrigerator until the analysis was performed.

Analysis of Heavy Metals

Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) was used to determine the heavy metal content of the water samples collected from the Gowanus Canal, Coney Island Creek, and Newtown Creek. The three metals that were focused on were nickel, cobalt, and lead. In order to determine the metal content in these samples a different lamp for each metal was used. Standards of different concentrations were prepared and their absorption readings were recorded for each of the three metals. This data was used to create a calibration curve for concentration. Each of the water samples was examined for the content of each metal, and the absorption reading was used to determine the concentration of lead, nickel, and cobalt in the water samples.

Analysis of Micro-Pollutants

The water samples from each site were filtered using solid phase extraction (SPE). The micro-pollutants from each site were analyzed on three different sorbents. Each sorbent was then placed in 50 µL of a standard solvent, a 7:3 mixture of hexane: dichloromethane, in order to isolate the micro-pollutants from the sorbent. The collected liquid from each sorbent was placed in vials and labeled respectively for each site. 5 µL of sample was then injected into the gas chromatography mass spectrophotometer (GC-MS). The GC-MS ran the samples under the following conditions: initial: 50oC held for 1 minute, ramp 1: 15oC/min until 120oC, ramp 2: 3oC/min until 290oC, and ramp 3: 10oC/min until 310oC held for 5 minutes. The results were then displayed on a chromatogram.

At the completion of each run a chromatogram, displaying the data, was produced by the gas chromatography mass spectrophotometer (GC-MS). The chromatogram displays different peaks for each compound, in this case the micro-pollutants that were separated out of the water sample. In order to determine what each peak in the chromatogram represented the gas chromatography mass spectrophotometer library was used as a reference. By right clicking on each peak a mass spectrum for the corresponding compound was opened, therefore providing the name and structure of the unknown compounds found in the samples.

Results and Discussion

In this experiment the water quality of the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek was analyzed by looking at the presence of micro-pollutants and heavy metals present in the samples collected. The presence of the micro-pollutants was analyzed using gas chromatography mass spectroscopy and the concentration of the heavy metals that were present was determined using atomic absorption spectroscopy.


The micro-pollutants present in the water samples was determined by using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze the water samples that were collected from the three different sites. Chromatograms displaying the results for each of the three sites are shown below (Figure 1- Figure 3).

Using the gas chromatography mass spectrophotometer library, the individual peaks displayed on the chromatograms were identified. The compounds that were found in the Gowanus Canal were: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 11-bromoundecanamide, tetradecanamide, octadecane, skatole, hexatriacontane, nonadecane, docosane, 2-(tetradecyloxy) ethanol, nonacosane, triacontane, eicosane, and heptacosane. The compounds that were found in Newtown Creek were: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 9-octadecenamide, and skatole. The compounds that were found in Coney Island Creek were: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, squalene, and cyclotetradecane. Only 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol was found at all three sites and skatole was found in two of the three sites examined, at the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.

Most of the compounds that were found in the water samples were hydrocarbons. These compounds include octadecane, hexatriacontane, nonadecane, docosane, nonacosane, triacontane, eicosane, heptacosane, squalene, and cyclotetradecane (figure 5). Hydrocarbons are typically associated with petroleum and natural gas sources as they are major components of these materials.

Octadecane has a formula of C18H38 and is typically used as a solvent in organic synthesis or as a calibration standard.21 Nonadecane has a formula of C19H40 and it is used for oxidation and chlorination reactions.22 Docosane has a formula of C22H46 and similar to nonadecane it is used for oxidation and chlorination reactions.23 Hexatriacontane has a formula of C36H74, nonacosane has a formula of C29H60, triacontane has a formula of C30H62, 24-26 Eicosane has a formula of C20H42 and is used for oxidation and chlorination reactions as well as a component in diesel exhaust nanoparticles.27 Eicosane is also known for being used in cosmetics, lubricants, and plasticizers.27 Studies on mice have shown that the presence of eicosane on pulmonary surfaces might be related to dysfunction of surfactant activity.27 Heptacosane has a formula of C27H56 and squalene has a formula of C30H50.28, 29 Squalene originates from olive oil or from the liver of a shark.29 However, it can be used as an adjuvant and added to vaccines and can also be found in certain foods as well as in cosmetics.29 Squalene can also typically be used for medicine and as a dietary supplement.29 Cyclotetradecane has a formula of C14H28 and is a saturated monocyclic hydrocarbon. It can be found in herbs and spices and is a known component of licorice.30

These compounds are all hydrocarbons and are considered to be higher alkanes. They can be found in samples of the liver, the heart, the kidneys, muscles, and adipose bovine tissues.21-28 Studies have shown that higher alkanes are known for causing skin, eye, and respiratory irritations. Since they are hydrocarbons, they are all components of petroleum products, mineral oils, pesticides, and other organic matter and is typically released through processing and combustion of such materials but can also be released with waste.21, 24, 31 While there are numerous hydrocarbons associated with petroleum, the toxicity of all of them has not been determined. However, they are known to cause damage to body systems such as the nervous system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the immune system, the reproductive system, the sensory system, and the endocrine system.31 Individuals most prone to such health effects are pregnant women, young children, and people already suffering from pre-existing illnesses.31

The remaining compounds: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 11-bromoundecanamide, 9-octadecenamide, skatole, 2-(tetradecyloxy) are all nitrogen or alcohol containing compounds (figure 6). 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol has a formula of C24H26O and is a chemical used for the manufacturing of raw materials.32 Studies have shown that it can be used as an antioxidant, a UV absorber, a heat stabilizer, an antimicrobial agent, a cross linker, a flame retardant, a colorant, a film forming agent, and as a catalyst.32 It has also been shown that 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol can disrupt the potential of the mitochondrial membrane.32 11-bromoundecanamide has a formula of C11H22BrNO and tetradecanamide has a formula of C14H29NO.33, 34 Both of these compounds have undergone yeast anticancer drug screening.33, 34 9-octadecenamide has a formula of C18H35NO and is an amide of the fatty acid oleic acid.35 This is a naturally occurring compound in animals and is known to induce sleep. Because of this property, 9-octadecenamide is being studied as a possible treatment for mood and sleep disorders and it is believed that it interacts with neurotransmitter systems in order to cause the sleep inducing effects.35 It is also known to accumulate in cerebrospinal fluid in individuals that suffer from sleep deprivation.35 9-octadecenamide is used for the production of adhesives, absorbents, lubricants, plating agents, processing aids, surface treating agents, food containers, plastic products, rubber products, garden care products, and building and construction materials.35 Skatole has a formula of C9H9N and is produced through fermentation of tryptophan in the intestines.36 However, it is also a product of cigarette smoke and is known to be a pulmonary toxin that can induce the expression of aryl hydrocarbon receptor regulated genes.36 Studies have shown that skatole activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor that in turn initiates phase I enzyme transcription in bronchial epithelial cells and colonic cell lines.36 These enzymes are involved in the metabolism of pharmaceutical compounds, plant products, and environmental pollutants and toxins throughout the human body.36 While it has not yet been proven, there is a possibility that skatole can cause DNA damage, inhibit lipid peroxidation, and decrease glutathione content in humans.36 2-(tetradecyloxy) ethanol has a formula of C16H34O2 and is used as a surfactant.37

Heavy Metals

The presence of heavy metals was also analyzed in the samples collected from the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek. The heavy metals: nickel, cobalt, and lead were analyzed using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS). The water samples collected from the Gowanus Canal had a nickel concentration of 0.84 ppm, a cobalt concentration of 0.76 ppm, and a lead concentration of 0.84 ppm. The water samples collected from Newtown Creek had a nickel concentration of 0.60 ppm, a cobalt concentration of 0.63 ppm, and a lead concentration of 0.09 ppm. The water samples collected from Coney Island Creek had a nickel concentration of 0.52 ppm, a cobalt concentration of 0.60 ppm, and a lead concentration of 0.19 ppm.

When comparing the results to each other it can be clearly seen that the samples collected from the Gowanus Canal had the highest concentration of nickel, cobalt, and lead in relation to the other sites. The average concentration of nickel is recorded at less than 0.01 ppm, and the results from this experiment show concentrations ranging from 0.52 to 0.84 ppm. While cobalt is not a regulated metal, the concentrations of cobalt found to be present in these bodies of water also exceeds the average. Typically the concentration of cobalt in surface water is measured between 0.001 and 0.01 ppm, however the readings from this study show concentrations ranging from 0.60 to 0.76 ppm. Average concentrations of lead in surface water are measured between 0.003 ppm and 0.015 ppm. The results showed that lead concentration in all three sites exceeds the average concentration of lead found in bodies of water across the country with the concentrations ranging from 0.09 to 0.84 ppm. These results show that nickel concentration in all three bodies of water exceeds the average concentration of nickel found in bodies of water across the country.


The water quality of the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek were tested and analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to determine the micro-pollutants present. The presence of heavy metals such as nickel, cobalt, and lead and their concentrations at each site were also determined using atomic absorption spectroscopy. The Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Coney Island Creek were chosen because they are known for being highly polluted sites and are known to receive large amounts of sewage discharge each year.

After running the samples the results were displayed on a chromatogram and the data was analyzed. Results showed that there were micro-pollutants present at all selected sites, but that they were different at each site, with only one being found at all three sites and one being found in two out of the three sites. At the Gowanus Canal compounds such as 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 11-bromoundecanamide, tetradecanamide, octadecane, skatole, hexatriacontane, nonadecane, docosane, 2-(tetradecyloxy) ethanol, nonacosane, triacontane, eicosane, and heptacosane were found to be present.  Compounds found in the samples collected from Newtown Creek were: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 9-octadecenamide, and skatole. And, at Coney Island Creek the compounds that were found in the samples were: 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, squalene, and cyclotetradecane. Only 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol was found at all three sites and skatole was found in samples from the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek. While most of the identified compounds were hydrocarbons which are typically associated with petroleum and natural gases, while the rest ranged from natural sources, to compounds used in chemical reactions, and being compounds use in manufacturing processes.

Heavy metal analysis showed the presence of all three metals:  nickel, cobalt, and lead at each of the three sites. The results indicated that nickel concentrations ranged from 0.52 to 0.84 ppm in the samples collected from the three different sites. Cobalt concentrations ranged from 0.60 to 0.76 ppm at all three sites and lead concentrations ranged from 0.09 to 0.84 ppm at all three sites. These numbers all exceeded the average concentration of these metals found present bodies of water across the United States.

Results from this experiment show that there are heavy metals and chemical compounds present in all three sites. This data serves as baseline data and can be used in following years to see the changes in heavy metal concentrations and the difference in the chemical compounds present in the water. Results indicate that while there are laws that protect against illegal discharges and waste disposal into the numerous water system across the country, that many of these water systems can still become contaminated with unwanted pollutants. The main source of such pollution are combined sewer overflows and illegal discharges. These methods both introduce not only heavy metals and chemical compounds into the water, but can also introduce biological contaminants that can impact human health.

Works Cited

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Analysis of Water around NYC-post 3

At this point in the semester, the chemical analysis of the water samples and their sediments collected from Coney Island Creek, the Gowanus Canal, and Newtown Creek has been completed. Using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) we were able to determine the presence of micro-pollutants found in the sediments extracted from the water samples. Using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) we were able to determine the concentration of heavy metals such as: lead, nickel, and cobalt found in the water samples.

Results from GC-MS showed the presence of 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol, 11-bromoundecanamide, squalene, tetradecanamide, octadecane, 9-octadecenamide, skatole, hexatriacontane, nonadecane, docosane, 2-(tetradecyloxy) ethanol, nonacosane, triacontane, eicosane, heptacosane, and cyclotetradecane. 2, 4-bis (1-methyl-1-phenylethyl) phenol was found the only compound found in all three sites, and skatole was found both the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek. The remaining compounds were only found in one of the three sites. Majority of the compounds that were identified are hydrocarbons. These are typically associated with petroleum and natural gas.  The remaining compounds are used for manufacturing, in cosmetics, as lubricants, in food, and some are naturally occurring in animals and in fecal matter.

Results from AAS showed that the concentration of all three metals (leas, nickel, and cobalt) was below 1 ppm for all of the samples. The concentrations were above the average concentration found in surface water, and above the recommended concentration for drinking water. Accepted concentrations include 0.015 ppm of lead in drinking water and 0.003 ppm in surface water, 0.002-0.004 ppm of nickel in drinking water and 0.0005-0.025 ppm in surface water, and 0.001-0.002 ppm of cobalt in drinking water and 0.001-0.01 ppm in ground water.

Analysis of Water around NYC-post 2

After filtering the water samples to remove the sediments the samples were placed back in the refrigerator to await analysis. The filter paper with the sediments were collected and each was placed into separate containers. These were placed in 10 mL of a liquid chemical and left sitting in order to dilute the sediments making it possible for analysis of such sediments in the near future. Currently the filtered water has only been looked at to determine the presence of heavy metals and their concentrations in these bodies of water. I still have to inject the samples into GC-MS to determine the types of micro-pollutants that are present in these three bodies of water that are considered to be highly contaminated.

Moving forward I have to return to all three sites to collect more water in order to rerun the tests and analysis that are being run on the first samples. After analyzing the results from the GC-MS part, it would be interesting to see if the micro-pollutants are the same as the ones that were found in the samples from the Hudson River in lower Manhattan last year. Many of these were traces of feces or traces of plastics. Being that these sites are deemed to be highly polluted centers in NYC I would hope and expect to see many types and different types of chemicals after the analysis is performed.

Analysis of Water around NYC

Being awarded the UGR grant late, I was only able to recently start my project. this study focuses on the analysis of samples of water collected from three different bodies of water around NYC. These sites include Coney Island Creek, the Gowanus Canal, and Newtown Creek. These three sites were specifically chosen because they have been known to be highly polluted sites and therefore I thought it would be interesting to see the types of micro-pollutants and the metal content found at these sites in order to compare them to the results I obtained from the areas in lower Manhattan.

The project is currently underway. I went out to the sites and collected 2 liters of water from each site back on November 12th. Since then the samples have been brought back to the lab and I have filtered the samples. This has been done in order to collect the sediments and other such materials present in the water so that they can be analyzed separately.  This process does however leave the micro-pollutants and metal in the water content which allows them to be analyzed using GC-MS(gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) for the micro-pollutants and AAS(atomic absorption spectroscopy ) for the metal content.

Pollutants in NYC Waters

As mentioned in my previous post, my research is based on the pollutants found within the different bodies of water that surround New York City. In order to determine the types of pollutants found in the water, the water was physically and chemically analyzed. The members of the Billion Oyster Project, have given us access to all their sites and oyster cages around New York City. These sites include their site on Governors Island, and their sites at Battery Park, Hudson River Park, and the surrounding areas. It is from these sites that we have collected water samples and sediments.

We have been monitoring these sites weekly, and have begun taking their PH, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity reading both on site and back at the lab. The PH readings have shown us that the water is slightly basic as the PH readings are high in the 7 range. The conductivity readings have been ranging between 24,000µs/cm and 25,000µs/cm readings. This data is being compared with data found in published papers to see how polluted the water is or if the oyster beds are actually helping clean our waters. We are running chemical analysis back at the lab using the atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to help us determine what chemicals are found in the waters surrounding the city. We continue to run these tests to see how the water quality improves weekly. Hopefully we will be able to continue working on this project in the winter in order to see a change over and an improvement in the water quality over a longer period.

Pollutants in NYC Waters

     My research is based on the pollutants that are found within the different bodies of water that surround New York City. In order to determine these types of pollutants, water samples must be chemically analyzed. To complete this research we are collaborating with the members of the Billion Oyster Project, as they will help us collect water samples and sediments from the sites where they have placed their oyster beds.

     Thus far, I have read the Billon Oyster Project manual which explains the protocols that they use to collect data from each of their different sites. I have also read several other scientific documents that provide me with background knowledge on the subject. I have been to Governor’s Island with Dr. Mojica alongside one of my research team members to see how the oyster beds are kept and to get an idea of how we will be collecting our water and sediment samples. While some of our tests will be done on site, such as the dissolved oxygen test, we will be bringing water samples back to the laboratory where the samples will be analyzed using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). We will be heading back out to Governor’s Island this Wednesday to collect our first samples and then we will collect samples from different sites around the city in the upcoming days.