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Gowanus CAG Requests Water Reclassification

Members say the intended use demands less pathogens.

The Gowanus Superfund Community Adisory Group (CAG) passed a resolution Tuesday night requesting that the water in the canal be reclassified by the EPA to limit pathogens. The unanimous statement by the community was made during the widely attended general meeting held at Borough Hall.

"Under the Clean Water Act, water is supposed to be clean to the intended use," said Marlene Donnelly, a member of the Water Quality/Technical Sub-committee of the CAG.

The intended uses for the Gowanus Canal are recreational, according to CAG. Even in its dank state, during the warmer months. But the current classification at its industrial standard (Class-SD) sets no limits on pathogens, placing families and children who come in contact with the water at risk of being exposed to dangerous diseases.

In fact, the Gowanus Canal , contaminated with carcinogens like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) and heavy metals like copper, lead and mercury.

“Contamination in the Gowanus Canal continues to pose health risks, especially to people who eat fish or crabs from the canal,” said Judith Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, in a press release in January.

"The Clean Water Act has been passed to the state and they encourage the city to dump sewage in the canal based upon its classification," said Donnelly. "As far as they're concerned, they've met their environmental obigations because they've reached a certain level of dissolved oxygen in the water—but the pathogens can be sky high!"

As this has been deemed unsatisfactory by the community, the CAG will now send the resolution to all of the state agencies that have any jurisdiction over water quality. A meeting with the EPA is scheduled for next week to discuss standards.

"We want a standard where there are limits," said Donnelly. "With the community saying this, the state is going to have to respond and the city will have to respond." 

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