The Gowanus Canal: Another Superfund Site in Need of a Cleanup

Gowanus CanalWe mentioned in a previous blog post that the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site was one of over 1,200 sites under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.

In March of 2010, the EPA designated another Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York.  The Gowanus Canal Superfund site covers a 1.8 mile canal stretching from Gowanus Bay to New York Harbor; it’s highly polluted with more than a dozen contaminants.  A remedial investigation completed this past February confirmed the presence of PCBs; metals such as mercury, lead, copper; and PAHs—a group of chemicals formed during the incomplete burning of coal, wood, garbage or other organic substances.

Similar to how Southern Californians are strongly discouraged from eating fish caught off the Palos Verdes Shelf—protecting the public’s health is key to FCEC’s mission—residents near the Gowanus Canal are being told not to eat any of the fish they catch.  In fact, the health risks posed by people eating fish from the polluted waterway were the main reason why the Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site.

In addition to consuming fish, swimming in the canal or coming into contact with its water or sediment also presents risks.

Image via listenmissy on Flickr

It’s time for a cleanup

The EPA is now working on a feasibility study that will report on possible options for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal.  An important issue they will need to address is stopping continuous contamination of the site as a result of groundwater runoff and combined sewer outfalls (CSOs) that contain harmful pathogens such as e. coli along with PAHs and heavy metals.

The canal’s old bulkheads and the large amount of debris on the canal’s floor could also pose challenges if the EPA decides to clean up the contaminated sediment by dredging—or excavating—it.

Completion of the feasibility study is set for the end of this year.  Overall, the cleanup effort is expected to finish between 2020 and 2022 and cost $300-$500 million.  The costs will be split amongst parties found responsible for the pollution, including the city government, the Navy and seven companies.

As for public outreach, it’s unclear whether a plan will be implemented to educate residents on the risks of consuming fish caught from the canal; we will be sure to update you if any new information comes out following the feasibility study.

Looking on the bright side

On top of a cleaner, less odorous waterway and a healthier place to live and develop, local preservationists are also hoping that cleanup efforts will turn up historical treasures.

Recent sonar scans of the canal show evidence of sunken sailing vessels, including a ship that might possibly date back to the 18th century.

Want more info on the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup project? Visit its Superfund page on the EPA’s website.


Posted in Contamination

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