Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gowanus Canal: Superfund Site?

This still needs some digesting. First heard rumors on this last Thursday, but without any substantive detail. Below is the press release issued by EPA, in full (emphasis added):

Press Release

Region 2 - New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn Proposed for EPA Superfund List

Contact: Beth Totman (212) 637-3662,

(New York, N.Y.—Apr. 8, 2009) – Thanks to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to add Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal to the Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), the waterway will once again become an asset to local residents. The proposed listing would allow the Agency to further investigate contamination at the site and develop an approach to address this contamination. The Gowanus Canal is severely impacted by contaminated sediments as a result of its history hosting heavy industry. EPA is asking for public input on its proposal to list the Gowanus Canal.

“By proposing to list the Gowanus Canal, EPA can ensure that a thorough investigation into the source and extent of the contamination can take place,” said Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. “The sooner we get the listing underway, the sooner EPA can begin its work, so that one day the Gowanus Canal can be used again to benefit the people of Brooklyn.”

The 100-foot wide canal extends about 1.8 miles from Butler Street to Gowanus Bay in Brooklyn, New York. The adjacent waterfront is primarily commercial and industrial, and consists of concrete plants, warehouses, and parking lots, with proposed residential use. The canal is also surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The waterway is used for commercial as well as recreational purposes, and a public fishing area just downstream of the canal in Gowanus Bay is fished daily. [Ed. Note: Really? I'll have the chicken, thanks.]
The canal was built in the 19th century to allow industrial access into Gowanus Bay. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway, acting as the home to heavy industries, including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. It was also the repository of untreated industrial wastes, raw sewage and runoff.

Although most of the industrial activity along the canal has stopped, high contaminant levels remain in the sediments. The extent of the contamination traverses the length of the canal. Sampling has shown the sediments in the Gowanus Canal to be contaminated with a variety of pollutants, including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), and significant contamination associated with coal tar.

With the proposal of this site to the NPL, a 60-day comment period will begin during which EPA solicits public input regarding this action. For instructions to submit comments go to or contact Dennis Munhall, Region 2 NPL Coordinator at (212) 637-4343 or Once the site is placed on the NPL, EPA will expand its investigations to further define the nature and extent of contamination.

To date, there have been 1,596 sites listed on the NPL. Of these sites, 332 have been deleted resulted in 1,264 sites currently on the NPL. There are now 67 proposed sites awaiting final agency action. There are a total of 1,332 final and proposed sites around the country.

To find out more about the NPL Site Listing Process, visit: For a Google Earth aerial view of the Gowanus Canal: (Please note that you must have Google Earth installed on your computer to view the map. To download Google Earth, visit


Anonymous said...

If the feds come in and take over the neighborhood is done!!!! Weather you are for development or against it, the whole neighborhood is going to feel the wrath. Innocent landowners, small businesses, its all going down! It is basically putting us on a sexual predator list. The projected time for cleanup is 12-15 years and even after that theres no guarantee that the property values will go back to where they were, Because as soon as they stroke that pen and declare it a Superfund, property value is lost forever, people will stop coming to our beautiful neighborhood, and all progress would be lost! PLEASE WE NEED TO STOP THEM BEFORE THEY DESTROY OUR NEIGHBORHOOOOD!!!!

Anonymous said...

Williamsburg has MANY Superfund sites, (one across the street from me) and property-wise is some of the highest in the city-- ditto Greenpoint. The Gowanus neighborhood is more 'done' if you let developers put in chunks of 500-unit housing then it would be by this designation.