Gowanus

LISTEN: A history of Brooklyn’s most toxic waterways

September 26, 2019 Brooklyn Eagle Podcast
The Gowanus Canal. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

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In honor of Climate Week and 20 years of Superfund redevelopment, we’re looking into how the two waterways got to be so polluted, what has been done to clean them up already, and what their future might look like. 

Newtown Creek runs for 3.5 miles between the border of Brooklyn and Queens. It’s most famous for the Greenpoint Oil Spill, a disaster that released between 17 and 30 million gallons of petroleum into the waterway. 

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“Newtown Creek famously was not the color that water should be,” said Mitch Waxman of Newtown Creek Alliance. “Sometimes you’ll visit the creek and the waters are black as coal. Sometimes they look like ordinary river water. And sometimes they’re an olive green color. … We have a real chemical stew going on.”

Related: LISTEN: Don’t flush your toilet when it rains. Here’s why.

Similarly, the Gowanus Canal has absorbed its fair share of waste over many years, according to Joseph Alexiou, a journalist, historian and author of “Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal.” 

“This is not something that happened quickly,” Alexiou told Brooklyn This Week. “This is something that happened over time, over the course of many generations of people making waste and leaving it behind.” 

To find out more about this history of these two waterways, listen to the full episode above. 

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  • Interview with Joseph Alexiou at 1:17
  • Interview with Mitch Waxman at 6:28
  • Interview with Scott Enman at 11:39

Our host Lawrence Madsen is a native New Yorker. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in History. He is a volunteer leader with the disaster relief group Team Rubicon.

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