Saturday, November 03, 2012

Hurricane Sandy's Aftermath: Gowanus Business Owners Concerned About Toxic Sludge Left Behind After Canal Flood Waters Receded

(credit: google maps)
Due to their location on the banks of the Gownus Canal several businesses, most of them film production companies, have endured severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy.   Though the three and a half feet of water have now receded from the Douglas Street block were they are housed, the owners of Canal Creatures, CW Films, Eastern Effects, Camera Farm, Scrap Paper Productions, Alex Sullivan Audio, Papa, and PMC Digital are very concerned about the toxic compounds and raw sewage that were mixed in the water and are now coating everything.  Since the Gowanus Canal was declared a Superfund site by the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency, these concerns are understandable.
Here is a link to a video showing the damage and sludge left behind after the storm.
Kevin Howard, Production Manager and Co-owner of Canal Creatures Production writes:
"It is a horror show, with smells that we have never encountered before, even after years of living and working along the banks of the canal. NO ONE understands what the long-term effects will be of a SuperFund site having been stirred up and spread all over the Gowanus neighborhood. The many contaminants of this site have been resuspended in the flood water and are now in everything that has been soaked by the flood!
 Mark Bracamonte, Production Creature at Canal Creatures described the situation facing these businesses:
Our building has been sealed shut, and multiple film production business have been displaced and are now out of business. The EPA came down, only after many harassing calls from us. They came and took samples saying they would have results in 8 hours. That was 3 days ago. We still have no word.
There is ZERO neighborhood awareness about the potential health risks the area is facing. People are digging through contaminated trash, and debris with NO GLOVES and proper gear. IT IS SHOCKING THAT THE C TOWN GROCERY SUPERMARKET ON BOND AND DOUGLASS IS OPEN AND SELLING FOOD when we know they had the same toxic flood water as we did."
Some of the businesses have fund temporary quarters at Film Biz Recycling, the Gowanus recycling/prop rental center, where they "will figure out [their] strategy for dealing with this immediate situation."
They have also shared their neighborhood story online on a Tumblr blog here:

In an interview on the blog, Chris Hayes, principal partner at Eastern Effects states:
"We had a devastating flood like everyone else in the community. We have gotten no help from any government agency as of yet. No information that has been coherent as to what steps we should take, no one is telling us if the area is safe to inhabit, what we are being exposed to. No one has any answers. You kind of get the run around when we call anybody, I kind of feel like we have been left for dead out here, I mean, I have millions of dollars in inventory that’s sitting rotting now because we cant figure out what to do about it, if I’m even supposed to be in the building or not. There’s little snippets of information that are conflicting, so I feel like it’s every man for himself around here in this area. ….We built our business in this area, built up the community, and every one has abandoned us. It’s heart breaking, there’s no words that can express my sorrow that has happened to me and my partners here. It’s just a bad situation."
In the meantime, Councilman Brad Lander released this statement:
"Many of you have contacted me with concerns about the Gowanus Canal, a highly polluted waterway, which flooded neighboring streets. I have communicated with EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck and NYC Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland. Thanks to both of them for making the time, and communicating quickly (with each other, and with me) about our concerns at the canal.If you live near the canal, do not touch standing water in the area, or any sediment or debris left by Gowanus flood-waters."
At a press conference after Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway seemed flippant about the dangers associated with the health risks from Gowanus flood waters. When asked about the health risks related to the toxic water, Cas Holloway, who is more familiar to the Gowanus community as the former head of NYC's Department Of Environmental Protection (DEP) and, along with Mayor Bloomberg, a vocal opponent of the Superfund designation for the canal stated: "We’ll make sure that–we don’t think there’s any immediate danger to anybody and we don’t think there’s any issue.

However, I just received an email from David Green, a science teacher, who raises the alarm on the dangers associated with the toxins. He writes:
"I am a science teacher with a background in Chemistry and Physics living in Brooklyn Heights.I saw your post on the flooding from the Gowanus canal.
The situation you describe is quite serious concerning the toxicological hazard from that particular flood. All the flooding in NY produced some hazard because of the sewage mixed with the flood water (particularly bad in red hook), but the Gowanus waters are leaden with Lead and Mercury, and dangerous volatiles too.
Sewage can be cleaned and sterilized with detergent and chlorine bleach, but if toxic water and sludge gets into a basement (or first floor) there is no way to clean it out completely. Wooden floors and even concrete absorb it and leave residues that cannot be removed.
Note: In areas that have been contaminated with lead and mercury compounds Chlorine bleach (such as Chlorox) could have the unintended consequence of turning non soluble compounds into more soluble ones making exposure risks greater, so bleach should not be used in Gowanus flooded areas.

The long term dangers of these toxins are so great that I would recommend to all people who lived in a dwelling that got flooded by the Gowanus (basements and first floor apartments that got filled with this water), to notmove back in to their apartments.
This is even more the case for people who have children. The younger the child the more damage is done by heavy metal poisoning, and the damage is essentially permanent. This damage can take years to accumulate in the nervous system but once done cannot be remedied. It does not take much to cause damage- the amount a child ingests by putting their hands in their mouth is more than enough. Some of these chemicals produce continuous vapors which makes it impossible to avoid exposure.

I would strongly advise people with children especially babies and toddlers to not move back in, until the apartment is cleaned and then tested for these chemicals. If levels are above those set for safe exposure they should find someplace else to live.
I know that this could cause utter disruption of peoples lives, but disruption of living plans is better than permanent neurological damage."
This is probably the best advice. The Gowanus Canal is a toxic brew on a good day. Hurricane Sandy's flood waters certainly deposited hazardous substances and sewage in businesses and homes on the banks of the Gowanus. I am frankly surprised that we don't have people in Hazmat suits controlling the situation.


Triada said...

Hi Katia
This article sums up the major concerns of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site flooding and draws attention to the dangerous health risk to the community members.

Readers might also like to read these CORD blog posts on this same topic.


Anonymous said...

Where are the Elected Officals??????? Where is the Press????????? Why aren't they helping the Brooklyn children, families and business?????? Have we been forgotten??????????????

Anonymous said...

This is an outrageous and totally unacceptable level of health risk to our community members! If Brooklyn is now such a great new place to live and work then why are we living in the middle of a toxic sewer? How are our children's health going to be affected? Where will our electeds? Cas Haloway sounds like he is in total denial as usual. For months Cas has been dismissing this community and belittling our cries for help! How much cancer will it take to get Cas and Mayor Bloomberg to help us? Where is Brad Lander? HELPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!

Lisanne said...

I am glad people are waking up. I wish that groups like the Dredgers and the Gowanus Conservancy would stop encouraging people to participate in "clean up days" around the canal. I was shocked at the amount of people who were walking around the canal the day of and the day after the hurricane with their children and pets putting them in harms way.

Yes I live near the canal but I would never ever touch anything around it and I saw many picking up and posing with debris. Maybe I am over reacting? I hope so for their sake.

Anonymous said...

Our state senator for the time being, Daniel Squadron, has been excellent in terms of tweeting out updates about schools, transportation, and Con Ed. He has been focused on and helping lower Manhattan public housing residents. I had forgotten he represents us. Call him and Joan Millman.

Anonymous said...

Lisaane You are not over reacting. It is totally shocking that the Gowanus Dredgers and the Gowanus Conservancy are asking for the public to clean up a superfund site!!!

I am surprised some resident or unsuspecting family doesn't take legal action against them.

Anonymous said...

For those of you considering to actually TOUCH & INHALE THE TOXIC WASTE, please take a few moments and read the United States Environmental Protection Agencies webpage posted for New York, N.Y. on January 3, 2012.

“Contamination in the Gowanus Canal continues to pose health risks... ” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “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.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and various metals, including mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. PCBs and PAHs are suspected to be cancer causing and PCBs can have neurological effects.

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Carroll Gardens since before St. Agnes said...

We've been saying for generations how bad the canal is - but people want to live & eat & play within feet of it.

Anyone who has lived in Carroll Gardens through the late '60s and early 70's (when the canal was last DREDGRED) knows that there was a major rise in Cancer to residents of the neighborhood.

"IF" they insist on doing anything to the canal it should be to BUILD the banks Higher, and NOT allow new residential housing and perhaps try the coating the bottom of the canal - do NOT stir up what's down there.

Anonymous said...


There's no evidence of any disturbance of the contaminated sediment at Canal bottom and there was no sewage release because of the lack of heavy rain. Clean up the trash that floated ashore with a broom and leave the trash bag for sanitation to pickup.

The only Gowanus issue is that salt water is corrosive so copper pipe and wire may have permanent damage.

Margaret said...

1:26 you are ignorant. Of course anything at all touched by Gowanus water is contaminated - toxic contamination as well as sewage. You are irresponsible to tell people to relax. You could not be more wrong - you are obviously ill informed.

Anonymous said...

Margaret wants to bleach our streets!

Bleach is a more harmful / toxic chemical than anything found in our Canal water so please use caution. Gasoline will also neutralize most harmful bacteria and Gowanus floodwater had asome gasoline due to flooded cars.

Margaret said...

9:05 Where did I say that or imply that? All I said was that you are ignorant of the nature of the Gowanus Canal water. It's toxic, and there\'s sewage. I am not a scientist proposing what to do. But I certainly would not touch anything that the waters touched. For you to state that there was nothing to worry about makes me wonder what your motivations are, where you are coming from. But I'll just stay nice about this and assume you are ill informed and maybe not so nice in trying to characterize me in some put down negative light. Water off a duck's back.

Katia said...

Good for you, Margaret!

Elizabeth Kenney said...

Thank you for 'asking' this - we live a couple doors up from Bond where the waters came to and our sump pump was definitely pumping raw sewage that then went into the front yard. Not sure what else was in the water but sure would like to know. I too was aghast to see people out with their dogs and children the next day and seriously, police tape at the end of the street next to the canal? It should have been at the top of the street to keep people from walking in the oil slick. I also saw sanitation workers a couple days ago picking up the debris wearing their usual gear. Who knows where they were taking it...