Inch by inch, plan to clean up Gowanus proceeds

October 25, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A review of studies that have been done so far on the polluted Gowanus Canal was produced this month by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Technical Assistance Services for Communities Unit.

The Gowanus has been named an EPA Superfund Site, mandating a heavy-duty cleanup. It is one of two Superfund sites in the borough – the other is the Newtown Creek, considered even more toxic than the Gowanus.

The Superfund process, stemming from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, gets its name from the “super fund” of money that has been set aside to clean up hazardous waste sites.

The Gowanus, which was dug out in 1869 when the existing Gowanus Creek was expanded, soon became a major industrial transportation route, in the days when most goods came in by ship.

Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries and chemical plants sprung up along the canal – and all discharged wastes into the Gowanus, with predictable results. Industry began to decline along the canal in the 1950s, but some still remains.

The reactivation within the past 10 years or so of the “flushing tunnel” that brings fresh water from New York Bay into the canal has helped, but only to up to a point.

As this newspaper has previously reported, an EPA feasibility study in December 2011 described several alternatives for cleaning up the site, judging from “no action” to dredging the entire layer of soft sediment, solidifying the top 3 to 5 feet of native sediment in targeted areas, and capping with an oil-absorbing treatment layer, isolation layer and armor layer.

The aforementioned alternative, known as Alternative 7, is one of three that the EPA has decided on as a “finalist.” A second, known as Alternative 5, would dredge the soft sediment column and then cap with an oil absorbing treatment layer, an isolation layer and an armor layer. However, it would skip the step of solidifying the top 3 to 5 feet of native sediment.

Alternative 1, doing nothing, must be listed as an alternative in every feasibility study, but realistically, it is not an option.

The next step is the selection of one of the proposed plans, either Alternative 5 or Alternative 7, followed by a public comment period. The plan will then be put into action.

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