Gowanus Cleanup – EPA Lays the Gauntlet

By Sophia Kelley and Elias Rodriguez

Everyone who’s ever seen the patches of rainbow-hued slicks on its surface or taken a whiff after a heavy rain knows that Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal is filthy. The canal is so filthy, in fact, that it was added to the Superfund list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. Earlier this month, EPA released a study of the options for cleaning up the chemical contamination and last night a public meeting was held to discuss the investigation.

The newly completed feasibility study evaluates the technologies that could be used to clean up the canal, and will be used to develop a cleanup plan for the Gowanus. Last night, nearly 200 people attended a public meeting at the stuffy auditorium of Brooklyn’s P.S. 58. ATSDR, State, City and local officials also participated. The good seats filled early. A background discussion was followed by a comprehensive presentation of the seven remedial alternatives laid out in the study. The goal was not to choose a cleanup plan (that step will come later in 2012), but rather to discuss the “array of technologies” and options that are available to address the contaminated sediment in the canal. Slide after slide of charts, tables and graphs of information were punctuated by the occasional photograph of the canal and technologies that have worked at similar sites across the nation. The crowd gasped when a close up shot of a floating fish carcass popped up as a graphic reminder of what’s at stake. “Is that a whale?” asked a front bencher. “Disgusting,” proclaimed another audience member. 

EPA’s Walter Mugdan answers questions at last night's Gowanus Canal meeting.

EPA’s Walter Mugdan, the director of the Superfund program and Christos Tsiamis, the project manager patiently answered all the questions posed during the lively question and answer session.  “Who’s going to pay for all of this?” A: the parties responsible (24 entities and counting) for the pollution will pay. “What about water quality?” A: It’s important, but being addressed under the Clean Water Act, not primarily Superfund. “Will the City government live up to its obligations as a responsible party?” A: ‘We expect the City to do the right thing’ said EPA.  

After more than two hours the debate was concluded. Public participation is a vital part of the Superfund process and last night’s well informed and actively engaged crowd was proof positive that the EPA welcomes community involvement as part of the multimillion dollar cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.