EPA Releases Options for Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a study of the options for cleaning up chemical contamination in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Gowanus Canal was added to the Superfund list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites in March 2010. The study builds on an EPA investigation that confirmed the widespread presence of numerous contaminants in the canal and found that exposure to the contaminants poses threats to people’s health and the environment. 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. EPA is encouraging the public to comment on the study and attend a meeting in January to discuss the cleanup options. The exact date and time of the meeting is pending and will be announced on the Gowanus Canal web page: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/gowanus

“Contamination in the Gowanus Canal continues to pose health risks, especially to people who eat fish or crabs from the canal,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator. “The study of options for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal is a critical step toward a full-scale cleanup that will protect people’s health and revitalize this urban waterway.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and various metals, including mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and metals were also found in the canal water. 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. PCBs and PAHs are suspected to be cancer causing and PCBs can have neurological effects.

In January 2011, the EPA released assessments of the health and ecological risks associated with contaminants in the Gowanus Canal. The health assessment found risks to people from eating fish and crabs caught in the canal and regular contact with canal water and sediment. The ecological risk assessment revealed threats to organisms that live in the sediment of the Gowanus and found risks to ducks and heron that eat fish from the canal.

Completed in 1869, the Gowanus Canal was once a major 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, sewer overflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies. In 2010, after an outpouring of public support, the Gowanus Canal became the first site in New York City to be added to the Superfund list in more than a decade.

The feasibility study is available for public review at EPA’s document repository at the Carroll Gardens Library at 396 Clinton St. in Brooklyn, N.Y. and online at http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/gowanus

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