The Environmental Protection Agency Reveals Draft Proposal for Gowanus Canal Clean Up

The plan to clean the Gowanus Canal will involve removing all of the “black mayonnaise” from the polluted waterway.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its draft proposal for riding the Gowanus Canal of its toxic pollutants.

During a , Christos Tsiamis, the EPA's Gowanus Canal Project Manager, gave a three-hour explanation of how his agency plans to remove the toxins from one of the most polluted waterways in the nation.

But Tsiamis stressed that there would be some coal tar sludge left behind, which has been leaking into the canal for 100 years from three primary sources along the Gowanus: Fulton, Public Place and Metropolitan, all of which were formerly Manufactured Gas Plants.

However, under the official draft proposal to clean the Superfund site released on Tuesday, there will be no sludge left behind, according to The Daily News.

The News reported that there are two possible plans the EPA is considering and they “are more ambitious than the abandoned alternatives,” and are expected to cost $351 to $456 million.

Under the new plan, the agency will dredge five to ten feet deep into the bottom of the canal in order to remove all of the coal tar sludge.

Back in October, National Grid, which is responsible for cleaning up the Public Place site, which is located between Fifth and Huntington streets, .

After the dredging, the bottom of the canal will be capped with a system of three protective layers to prevent contamination to bubble up from the bed of hard sediment.

Tsiamis explained in the October meeting that the capping of the canal bed will be composed of a combination of layers in order to “sustain life.” The first layer would try to solidify the liquid tar with an oilophilic mat, which attracts and absorbs oil, and then there will be a couple feet of sand and then another level of gravel.  

The Gowanus, which was added to the Superfund list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites in March 2010, contains more than a dozen contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and 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 on Tuesday. “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.”

The Superfund mandates that the clean up costs will be covered by the polluters. According to The News, so far nine companies and organizations, including National Grid, which owns the three gas plants along the canal, will be held responsible for the years of pollution.

Since the plan is still only a draft, the EPA is encouraging the public to take part in the comment phase of the study during a meeting this month. The exact date and time will be announced soon, but make sure to check the EPA’s Gowanus Canal page for details.


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