Mosquitoes swarming from a garbage-filled, four-block long stretch of stagnant water plague residents of nearby apartments all summer
By Lindsay Lazarski
Gloria Hidalgo likes living in her quiet building on 142nd Street. The rent is reasonable; her neighbors are hard-working people, her sister and two nieces live three floors below her and Hostos Community College, where she is studying to become an accountant, is just blocks away.
But a rotten smell, just five stories below her windows may force Hidalgo to move.
The foul odor rises from a river of murky sludge–three feet deep and littered with plastic bags, broken beer bottles, planks of decaying wood, and abandoned basketballs–oozes along four blocks from Southern Boulevard and 142nd Street to the fields of St. Mary’s Park.
Residents have dubbed the filthy concoction of standing water and garbage the Bronx Swamp.
“It smells horrendous,” said Walter Nash, a community leader who organized a protest on March 27 to demand that the swamp be drained and cleaned of all garbage.
“There is all manner of bugs, rats, and dead animals down there, but the main thing we’re scared of are the mosquitoes. If there is West Nile virus we are going to be the first ones to get it. The bugs are feasting off of the dead animals down there,” Nash said.
“We need help,” pleaded Hidalgo as she pointed out a rat that scurried from a trash can outside of her building to the standing swamp. “I want to live in this area, but if it is like this, I plan to move somewhere else.”
Nash said it’s been seven years since the swamp was drained last and that the city needs to take responsibility for keeping the area clean.
“Had this been down on Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, or close to the mayor’s office this would have been gone day one,” he said.
The property is owned by a real estate company called Metropolitan 47 LLC, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which sprayed insecticide because of the danger of mosquitoes last year. The firm has been issued several violations for standing water, but has failed to appear at any hearings, according to a health department spokeswoman, Celina De Leon.
Any time there is standing water there is the potential for it to become a breeding ground for insects and harmful bacteria, explained Jamie Stein, an environmental analyst from Sustainable South Bronx.
As for the mosquitoes, Stein said they are always a nuisance and can become a more serious problem. Mosquitoes that feast on dead birds can transmit West Nile Virus, a disease that has killed two dozen New Yorkers over the last 10 years, and cost the city millions in a controversial program of spraying insecticide from the air.
Amando Mendez, a father of three who has lived for 10 years in one of the many residential buildings that overlook the swamp, said the mosquitoes become unbearable in the summertime. He cannot enter the elevator and hallways of his building, or open the windows of his apartment without inviting a swarm of mosquitoes, accompanied by the rancid smell of the swamp.
Blisters and rashes from mosquito bites cover his daughters’ legs bellies and backs come summer, said Mendez.
Lots of young children live in her building, too, said Hidalgo. Her two nieces also get rashes and welts from mosquito bites, and often vomit and become sick with fevers, she said.
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has called for immediate action to drain and clean the swamp.
In New York City, no one should have to live near something as filthy, and potentially dangerous, as this swamp,” said Gotbaum.
“In the past 10 years, 28 Bronx residents have tested positive for neuro-invasive disease due to West Nile Virus. This summer will bring swarms of mosquitoes–but we have received no assurances that this area will be safe and free of disease,” she said in a written statement.
Edwin Saltares, whose office is just feet away from the swamp said the area can be cleaned hundreds of times, but the problem will persist and become progressively worse with every rainfall as long as there is no permanent drainage system.
Stein agreed, “The real approach would be to remove the water and regrade the surface so as to not have a problem anymore.”
As for residents who will be plagued by mosquitoes until then, Mendez said he will continue to spray himself with mosquito repellent whether he’s inside his apartment or outside his building and will consider moving his family somewhere else.