Bookended by Superfund Sites

Canoeing along the Gowanus Canal (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Sophia Kelley

For many people, hazardous waste sites seem like far away, distant tales, but for others, like the 4.8 million of us who live in Brooklyn and Queens, the Superfund label has settled right upon our stoops. As both a resident of Greenpoint and an EPA employee, I find these to be interesting times. From Newtown Creek, the malodorous waterway that forms the boundary between north Brooklyn and Queens, to the historic Gowanus Canal in south Brooklyn, the EPA will be involved in cleanup efforts in our boroughs for years to come.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a public availability session regarding Newtown Creek as well as an archaeological walking tour of the Gowanus Canal. Both of these urban waterways have fascinating histories that reflect the patterns of industrialization and decline in our nation’s major cities. As shipping began to play a less vital role in New York’s economy, the waterways became neglected. Centuries of contamination have settled into the sediment and sludge and fresh pollutants from a variety of sources enter the waters every day. Though it won’t be possible to return these sites to the pristine condition predating industry, we can hope to have urban waterways where people might enjoy a variety of recreational activities without the fear that they are endangering their health.

What would your vision for a revitalized waterway look like? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And if you’re interested in these cleanup projects, stay tuned! We’ll be blogging about both Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal in future posts.