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The Hidden Health Dangers of Buried Urban Rivers

Cities have been paving over streams since the 19th century, but scientists are only now learning of potential harms to water quality.
In this 2011 photo, the Saw Mill River, covered over in the 1920s, flows through an underground tube in Yonkers, New York.
In this 2011 photo, the Saw Mill River, covered over in the 1920s, flows through an underground tube in Yonkers, New York.AP Photo/Seth Wenig

There was once a little stream called Sunfish Creek on Manhattan. Named for the animals that swam there, it ran down from where Times Square is today, coursing across 7th Avenue, feeding a pond at 32nd Street and 4th Avenue before spilling into the East River.

No trace of Sunfish Creek exists today. It was piped or paved over in the 19th century to make way for new development, or to contain flooding and disease. Now, it’s just one of hundreds of the city’s waterways that were erased or culverted at that time.