Tuesday, November 27, 2012

At Community Meeting, EPA Answers Gowanus Residents' Questions Regarding Sandy Flooding

Judith Enck, EPA Regional Manager of Region 2 and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Judith Enck, EPA Regional Manager of Region 2
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Councilmember Brad Lander
Assemblywoman Joan Millman
Kay Gee, Area Director of Osha and Venetia Lannon, Regional Director, NYS DEC
Willie Nunn, FEMA Division D Supervisor, Brooklyn
Walter Mugdan, EPA Region 2 Superfund DirectorIMG_0477
Natalie Loney ,EPA Region 2 Community Involvement Coordinator
Resident Mike Salvator asking about future development in Gowanus

To address continuing concerns about the floodwater and the sludge left behind when the Gowanus Canal, an EPA Superfund site, overflowed its banks during Hurricane Sandy last month, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez held an informational meeting for local residents last night at PS 32 on Hoyt Street. The meeting was co-sponsored by State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Councilmember Steve Levin, and Councilmember Brad Lander.

In attendance were Judith Enck, EPA Regional Manager of Region 2 , as well as representatives from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Judith Enck told the audience that she came out to the Gowanus area personally the afternoon after the storm and observed a 'most disturbing petroleum sheen' on the waterway. She explained that her agency collected samples from the canal on October 31, 2012. They also took four samples from the ground floors of two buildings that had been flooded during the storm. One of the buildings is located at the head of the canal, and the other near the 3rd Street turning basin.
Sampling was repeated on November 4th, 5th and 9th.

The samples of flood water from those two buildings were analyzed for both bacteria and for 139 different chemicals within the following categories: metals, volatile organic compounds, petroleum related compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are the primary contaminants in Gowanus Canal sediment.

Analysis of the samples showed bacteria levels to be very high. It also indicated low- level traces of gasoline and petroleum, consistent with storm run-off.
However, toxin levels were either below levels that would trigger concern or not detected at all. It would appear that there was no scouring of the bottom of the canal during the storm and that the toxic sediment remained undisturbed.

The main concern for Gowanus home owners whose houses were flooded are mold and bacteria. Bacteria can be traced directly to the raw sewage and street run-off that discharges from the Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) in the Canal.

Enck suggested common sense steps to deal with mold and bacteria. She stressed the importance of wearing protective clothing, rubber boots, rubber gloves, googles and facial masks. "Bacteria will die off eventually," Enck explained. However, if not dealt with properly, it can compromise the immune system."  For extra precaution, a Tetanus booster may be recommended.

Enck stated that the EPA is committed to being transparent and will continue to provide information to this web site: http://www.epa.gov/sandy

It was clear from comments from the audience that many home-owners and renters were still dealing with a host of issues almost three weeks after the hurricane. One owner reported still not having power. A renter expressed frustration that her landlord had not even pumped out his basement yet. Another resident mentioned that oil residue from the flood water had coated basements and sidewalks and that some of her neighbors had used brake fluid to dilute the sticky film.

The conversation quickly turned to the lessons that can be learned from this storm. Many, including the elected officials at the meeting,  were in agreement that sea level rise and global warming is a reality and needs to be factored into any future development along the Gowanus.
Congresswoman Velázquez spoke of the need to set public policy and of a revision of the type of development allowed along the coastline.  "This is a new reality" she stated. "It offers an opportunity for recovery, preservation and mitigation."

Councilman Lander felt that this is a very important time, one which offers a re-set button in regards to development on the shores of the Gowanus Canal. He mentioned that FEMA will be redrawing their existing flood maps to reflect flood lines during Hurricane Sandy. "We also need to keep pushing for infrastructure change."

Several people, including Jim Vogel of State Senator Velmanette Montgomery's office, called for a moratorium on building on the shores of the Gowanus until all risks are assessed, until the City stops using the canal as a cess pool,  building codes and zoning rules for coastal areas are reviewed, but most importantly, until we all come to terms with the fact that we may not have to wait 100 years for a storm like Sandy to recur.


Anonymous said...

Please avoid using Natural disasters to support NIMBY arguments. New construction in flood zones are flood protected as required by building code. Visit Greenpoint & Williamsburg to see for yourself!

Anonymous said...

Did anyone say whether there is a concern of mold, VOCs or any other issues that will remain after flooding removed. I didn't know about this meeting and wish i was there. Are there any solutions to the basements being flooded? Will the EPA test basements for VOCs and mold?

MM said...

10:18 Greenpoint zone A flooding was from Newtown Creek and a nightmare for residents there - did not have to visit, just Googled: http://greenpointers.com/2012/10/29/up-shits-creek-sandy-is-a-toxic-shit-storm-for-greenpoint-too-caution-standing-water-is-unsafe/
Concerns about flood zone development not nimby - just rational, sane, appropriate.

Anonymous said...


Evacuated Greenpoint residents in new buildings within flood zones returned on 10/30 to fully functioning buildings. Old buildings were not as lucky. These people in Carroll Gardens are exploiting a catastrophic event to support their NIMBY efforts.

All "nightmares" were experienced by sleeping Greenpoint residents who failed to evacuate per Bloomberg's order or who live in old buildings within the flood zone.

MM said...

11:51 - you are so full of it - I am in zone A in Gowanus - electricity still a problem, no heat, and building STILL under mandatory evacuation. AND there are going to be issues of mold and clean-up as well. And this problem is going on in all flood zones.And we did follow all city orders, by the way.

Anonymous said...


You are living or working in a building without proper flood protection.

The reason why Greenpoint, DUMBO and Williamsburg didn't experience damage we experienced here in Gowanus is because their old buildings have been retrofitted or torn down and replaced by new development.

The NIMBY residents and politicians catering to those votes, promoting anti-Gowanus development have the argument backwards. With new development in Gowanus flood zones, there will be less damage and destruction during the next 500 year flood.

Anonymous said...

9:16 - you must be a developer just aching to develop the bee-jeezus out of flood plains. or else you have some bucks attached to that vision. Your spurious statements that all is well in Williamsburg and Greenpoint don't hold water. All I have seen in the press is that government bodies are rethinking dense developments in flood zones - but you are spouting the same old same old.

Anonymous said...

9:16 you are out of you frigging mind that more development will cause less flooding in flood zones. Rep. Nydia M .Velázquez just called for an environmental task force in the wake of Sandy - and includes this: "In addition, the storm caused the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek to overflow their banks, flooding nearby communities. Both of these waterways unfortunately contain many pollutants, industrial waste, and raw sewage, creating great uncertainty for many residents."

Anonymous said...

9:16 - you must be the 1% who doesn't believe in global warming!

There should be a moratorium on all rebuilding in the Gowanus - Red hook areas and instead, return those communities to marshland to prevent future flood damage that might harm property in Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Boerum Hill!