EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck
Walter Mugdan, EPA Region 2's
Director of the Division of Environmental Planning and Protection
Christos Tsiamis, EPA Region 2 Project Manager for the Gowanus Canal
Natalie Loney, EPA's Region 2 community involvement coordinator
Since the Environmental Protection Agency placed the Gowanus Canal on the National Priorities List in March 2010, Christos Tsiamis, EPA Region 2 Project Manager, and his team have been extremely busy conducting investigative field work. Ahead of schedule, they have released their Remedial Investigation Report (R.I.) and the Risk Assessment this last January.
"Your canal is in good hands" EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck assured the community last night in P32's auditorium for a presentation of the findings. "You have the best and brightest EPA talent working on this." After introducing the team of engineers, scientists and lawyers, Enck noted the active involvement of the community, "which is a vitally important component" of the Superfund process. So far, according to Enck, there has been a good level of co-operation with the polluters as well.
Walter Mugdan, EPA's Director of the Superfund Program for Region 2, credited Christos Tsiamis for getting the Remedial Investigation Report done at an accelerated pace. "We considered this a high priority" he told the community. He noted that the Feasability Study will most likely be done by the end of this calendar year. Mugdan expects the remedial work on the canal to be completed by 2020-2022. "It took 150 years to get the canal to the contaminated state it is in now. Taking 10 to 12 years to clean it up does not seem unreasonable." The work would be done "as quickly as it can be done, properly."
Christos Tsiamis then presented the findings of the R.I. as well as the Risk Assessment. During the study, samplings were collected from:
-the top 6 inches of the canal's surface sediment
-fish and crab tissue
-Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO's) and other outfalls
-soil and groundwater on adjacent properties.
The samples revealed just how polluted the Gowanus Canal is. The primary contaminants found were:
-Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
-Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
-Metals (barium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver)
-Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylnes (BTEX)
-Non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL)
Concentrations of PAHs, PCB's, and eight metals were found to be significantly higher in the canal sediment than in the Gowanus Bay/Upper Harbor.
What does all of this mean as far as health risks to the community? Living, working and inhaling the air along the canal is within the acceptable carcinogen and non-carcinogen hazard range. However, re-creational use of the canal, which increases the risk of exposure to the polluted water and to the sediment, is not advisable. Neither is ingesting of fish and crabs from the canal.
During a question-and-answer period, two important issues were brought up again. The first issue involved the Combined Sewer Overflow. Though the Superfund clean-up only involves the bottom of the canal, the community has repeatedly asked the EPA to insist that New York City stop dumping raw sewage into the Gowanus. According to the NYC's Department Of Environmental Protection, 300 million gallons of Combined Sewer Owerflow (CSO's), made up of 30% storm water and 70% combined sewer waste, currently flows into the canal every year. Work currently done by DEP to upgrade the Gowanus flushing tunnel system will only reduce CSOs by 34 %. That means that a lot of raw sewage will find its way into the canal, even after the Superfund clean-up. Walter Mugdan acknowledged that fact. "It was always understood that this will not get us tothe finish line. In all likelihood, there will come a time when more work will have to be done.
The second issue was the toxicity of the uplands, specifically of Public Place, one of the most polluted sites along the Gowanus, which was once used by Brooklyn Union Gas for coal liquefication. The site has been slated by New York City for development. The Gowanus Green project, as it is ironically named, would bring 770 units of affordable housing to the shores of the Gowanus. Many in the community are sceptical that even after the NYS Department of Environmental Conservancy's remediation, the site will ever be safe for human habitation.
When asked about it, Christos Tsiamis stated: "As the engineer in charge of cleaning the Gowanus Canal, I am seriously concerned. This is something we have to look at closely." DEC's Engineering Geologist Gardiner Cross, who was on hand last night, did not seem worried, but acknowledged the fact that the site is continually leaking coal tar.