Wednesday, February 23, 2011

EPA To Community At Last Night's Meeting: "Your Canal Is In Good Hands!"



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
-deep sediment
-surface water
-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.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for all this info, Katia, but with all the clean up that will be done over the next many years, does this mean that Toll Bros may come slinking back and ruin it all? Or are they gone for now?

Anonymous said...

The property that was rezoned at Second-Carroll is currently availble for development by any developer - Toll, Ratner, etc.

It is unlikely that with the cost of superfund that any housing would be affordable and more likely that due to the superfund hardship, a developer will seek a variance to build more housing than what was approved in the rezoning.

Anonymous said...

Why would fish and crabs eat contaminated sediment? They don't!

Crabs eat whatever falls on canal bottom from the CSO discharge.

Nothing grows in canal sediment. Fish eat bottom growth from plants growing in sediment outside the canal. Why is EPA wasting superfunds on dredging when the problem is the sewer overflow?

Anonymous said...

but toll had a special variance to jump ahead of the greater rezoning process - is that amendment still in effect for the site or did it only apply to that specific development?

Katia said...

The spot re-zoning from manufacturing to mixed use, which allows housing on the Toll Brothers' 2 block site at Bond is still in effect.
The land got rezoned, so other developers could pick up where Toll left off.

Anonymous said...

Ugh that's bad news...anyway to stop it in the next ten years?

Anonymous said...

And did anyone notice that the day following the EPA presentation of both the RI and Risk Assessment--made less than a year after the Superfund designation, the NY Times runs a big story on the City Flushing Tunnel project?

Could someone, maybe from city hall, have asked for such an article with this exact timing to try to steel the EPA limelight after the EPA preform beyond everyone's expectation--especially city hall.
The Flushing Tunnel project in today's Times is the very same project the city presented about ten years ago. There is no news here. So why is it being featured with so prominently in today's paper? The Gowanus news for the day is how the EPA outperformed everyone's expectations.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing actual little fish and horse shoe crabs when the tunnel flush system actually worked when they fixed it that one time back aways. So? Dig the crap out, fix the tunnel flush and get on with unaffordable & ugly mega housing structures! Anyway, thanks for all the info posters.