Gowanus Canal Superfund Site to Begin Clean-up

On the eve of the government shutdown, the EPA released a press release outlining a $506 million clean-up plan for a Superfund site in the Gowanus Canal, located in  Brooklyn, New York. And now that the government shutdown is over, the EPA can start to work on this polluted canal.

Pollution in the Gowanus Canal – Brooklyn

This canal is in the heart of Brooklyn, and opens into the Gowanus Bay, which is dangerously close to the Hudson River/East river in the Upper New York Bay of the Atlantic Ocean. The whole canal study site can been seen on this EPA map. This site was originally given Superfund status in 2010.

The EPA explains the contamination as such:

As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

There are three segments to the canal, which will first be dredged to remove contamination in the sediment at the bottom of the canal. Liquid coal tar is expected to rise to the surface. Once this happens, “the sediment will be stabilized by mixing it with cement or similar binding materials. The stabilized areas will then be covered with multiple layers of clean material,” which includes absorbent material, sand, and gravel.

More pollution in Gowanus Canal – Brooklyn

The last part of the clean-up efforts include taking the dredged material and turning it into landfill cover.

The plans also include sewage management, so that sewage doesn’t enter the canal and contaminate it again:

In addition, the final EPA plan requires controls to significantly reduce the flow of contaminated sewage solids from combined sewer overflows into the upper canal. These overflows are not being addressed by current New York City upgrades to the sewer system. Without these controls, contaminated sewage solid discharges would recontaminate the canal after its cleanup. The EPA is requiring that combined sewer overflow discharges from two major outfalls in the upper portion of the canal be outfitted with retention tanks to reduce the volume of contaminated sewage solid discharges.

For more a visual of the sewage in the canal, see this video:

This is a lot of clean-up for a 100-foot-wide and 1.8 mile long canal, but it sure needs it. Popular Science found that if someone drank water from this canal, you could get dysentery, cancer, arsenic poisoning. They also reported that companies have been known to dump sewage, oil, and coal into the canal “by accident” over the years. The article also mentions that there is no funding for testing the water in the canal, so most scientists have no idea what kind of pollutants or bacteria thrive in the canal, although there supposedly some small crabs who have learned to adjust to high pollutant and sewage levels. Will a severe dredging operation change the quality of the water, or will it stay polluted and struggle to return as the Upper Clark Fork river has?

Gowanus Canal – Brooklyn

For more information about the history of the canal and pollution, visit the New York Magazine or the New York Times,

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One thought on “Gowanus Canal Superfund Site to Begin Clean-up

  1. Pingback: 3 Updates: Climate Change, Superfund Sites and Oil Spills | Environmental Explorations

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