Gowanus Canal cleanup to cost a half-billion

December 28, 2012 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Gowanus Canal area has seen dramatic changes in the recent past. Eagle photo by Caitlin McNamara
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The EPA on Friday announced a proposed cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal – and it’s slated to cost between $467 and $504 million.

The plan’s main component, as has been discussed in EPA documents and at public meetings in the recent past, consists of removing the contaminated layer of sediment at the bottom and sides of the canal. The EPA would then cover the soil below with a multi-layered covering, or “cap,” to make sure that any remaining contaminants don’t migrate into the waters of the canal.
The proposed plan also includes controls to prevent raw sewage overflows from getting into the canal, as they do during rainstorms, causing further pollution. In addition, the plan would excavate and restore the filled-in First Street Turning Basin. When the former canal extension was filled in many years ago, contaminated fill was used.

“The proposed cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal will make essential progress in removing toxic contaminants from this heavily polluted and battered waterway,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Our overall goal is to reduce pollution and protect the health of people who live and work in this community”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals were also found in the canal water.

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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 to be cancer causing, and PCBs can have neurological effects.

The Gowanus Canal, dug out in the mid-1800s, was once a major industrial transportation route. Manufactured gas plants, paper mills, tanneries and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal. As a result of years of discharges, stormwater runoff and raw sewage overflows, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s 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. Around the same time, the even-more-polluted Newtown Creek was also added to the list, giving  Brooklyn the dubious distinction of having two Superfund sites.

The EPA will accept public comments on its proposed plan until March 28, 2013. The EPA will hold public meetings on Jan. 23, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at Public School 58 (the Carroll School), 330 Smith St., and on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Joseph Miccio Community Center, 110 West Ninth St.

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