Gowanus Canal Cleanup (US)

The USEPA today announced its final plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York. The plan will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup.

Per the USEPA press release – more than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, occur at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals have also been found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected of being cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects.

Completed in the mid-1800s, the Gowanus Canal was a major industrial transportation route. Manufactured gas plants, tanneries and chemical and dye plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal. As a result of decades of discharges, storm water runoff, sewage overflows from sewer systems that carry sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the US most seriously contaminated water bodies. In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was added to the Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.

The EPA has divided the Gowanus Canal cleanup into three segments that correspond to the upper, middle and lower portions of the canal. The first segment, which runs from the top of the canal to the 3rd Street Bridge, and the second segment, which runs from 3rd Street to just south of the Hamilton Avenue bridge, contain the most heavily-contaminated sediment. In the third segment, which runs from the Hamilton Avenue Bridge to the mouth of the canal, the sediment is less contaminated than in the other segments.

Here is the USEPA decision.

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