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Major Cleanup Project Planned For Gowanus Canal

Superfund Site Contains 'Witches' Brew' Of Toxic Chemicals, EPA Admin Says
A city official said the Gowanus Canal is most likely not to blame for sewage backing into homes in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Credit: Getty Images)

A city official said the Gowanus Canal is most likely not to blame for sewage backing into homes in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Credit: Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Dredging will begin in about three years on the infamously polluted Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

The Gowanus Canal has been labeled a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of years of sewer outflows and industrial pollutants. In 2011, the EPA called the canal “one of the most contaminated water bodies in the nation.”

The contaminants include all manner of scary chemicals, according to regional EPA administrator Judith Enck.

“There’s a whole witches’ brew of contaminants in the bottom of the Gowanus Canal. It’s heavy metals such as lead and mercury, PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and a lot of coal tar,” Enck said. “So these are not easy things to clean up.”

But the canal will indeed be drudged in an effort to clean them up. Controlling the sewage overflow will also be another key element.

“The reason this is so important is because we don’t want to dredge all the contaminated sediment and then just have it recontaminated whenever there are heavy rains and toxins are released from the sewer system,” Enck said.

The project will result in a cleaner Gowanus Canal that will attract residents and businesses, Enck said.

“Once the canal is cleaned up, you’re going to see more recreational opportunities,” she said. “I think you’ll see some housing developments, because people want to live along clean water bodies – not polluted water bodies. And we’re certainly committed to keeping existing businesses there.”

But the cleanup will not magically turn the canal into the equivalent of a pristine mountain spring. Even after the cleanup, it will only be safe for boating – not swimming or fishing.

Enck noted that it took more than 150 years to turn the waterway into a Superfund site.

The highly contaminated sediment at the bottom of the canal includes coolant and lubricant residues that medical experts say can cause cancer.

The cleanup cost estimate is half a billion dollars, which Enck said will be split between the National Grid Company, the City of New York, four federal agencies and 29 different companies.

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