Monday, November 12, 2012

US Environmental Protection Agency Releases Hurricane Sandy Sampling Results For Gowanus Canal

After the Gowanus Canal, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site, flooded the surrounding area during Hurricane Sandy exactly two weeks ago today, many residents and business owners expressed concern. Did the sludge left behind when the waters receded contain any of highly toxic compounds from the canal? Did they have to be concerned about the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) that is dumped into the Gowanus during storm events?
The EPA came out to the community and took samples from two businesses on Douglass Street, located on the banks of the canal and near the flushing tunnel.
The results were just posted on EPA's web site:
Here is the statement:

US Environmental Protection Agency
Hurricane Sandy Sampling Results

On October 31, 2012, EPA took 4 samples in the Gowanus Canal area. Samples were taken from the ground floors of two buildings that had been flooded as well as directly from the canal. One of the buildings is located at the head of the canal, and the other near the 3rd street turning basin.

Samples of flood water from the ground floors of the two buildings were analyzed for bacteria and 139 different chemicals within the following categories: metals, volatile organic compounds, petroleum related compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds. Semi-volatile organic compound include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, which are the primary contaminants in Gowanus Canal sediment.

Levels of bacteria were high. While this type of bacteria becomes inactive over time, these findings reinforce the need for people to protect themselves when cleaning up flood waters that contain sewage and therefore contain bacteria. Fact sheets detailing the precautions people should take when cleaning flood waters can be found at

The remaining four categories of pollutants were compared to health based values of drinking water quality. Chemicals that were tested were below levels of concern or not detected. Low levels of gasoline and diesel derivatives were found, consistent with road run-off which often contains traces of fuel.

Levels of semi-volatile organic compounds were very low or not detected. These compounds include PAHs, which are a primary contaminant in the sediments at the bottom of the canal. The presence of some PAHs at low levels may also be related to spilled fuel and run off from asphalt.

Levels of most volatile organic compounds and metals were very low or not at levels that could be detected.

Levels of metals included some slight exceedances of drinking water standards. In the case of lead, its presence may be related to past lead usage in gasoline, typical to an urban environment.

Here are the complete results of the sampling.


Anonymous said...

Let's get real people,

You are showing Toll's proposed development but even that proposal is 100% flood proof. If both embankments of the Gowanus bulkheads are raised to the elevation of Toll's esplanade, a similar flood would cause 0% property damage. All you need is an extra 6ft of bulkhead.

If we preserve the asphalt parking lots of Gowanus, future floods will be just as bad as Sandy. Let's embrace the new reality and reject the NIMBY attitude!

David Green said...

EPA results, are back on the Gowanus testing and fortunately the news is good.

Apparently very little sediment was stirred up from the bottom, and the levels of the really dangerous things are low. There was no way of knowing this in advance, the seawater might easily have entered in such a way as to homogenize the muck on the bottom.

So, now the only danger faced by people reoccupying their basements is sewage, which is enough to deal with. Bleach can be used without worry of liberating insoluble toxins.

I am, nevertheless, glad I posted a warning on your Blog, until these numbers came in people could have been in a situation were one day of cleanup could damage their health.
and moving back into a basement could be worse.

The strange thing is how long it took to get this vital information, the tests were taken on Oct 31 and delivered on Nov 12! Although the bacteria levels may have taken many days to culture, the chemical tests probably only took a few hours. They should have returned them immediately (the next day). If good they would have reassured people, if bad, it would have kept them from moving back in when that would give them a toxic dose.

EPA what were you waiting for? Did the people who took these tests pass on any sense of urgency to the labs doing the testing, or did they just lump them with less critical ones?

I'm glad everybody got lucky on this one, for the EPA it was dumb luck.
David Green

skeptic said...

During Sandy the Gowanus waters had a lot of oil in them - on them - photos show that clearly. Yet the EPA testing did not show this. The EPA also said that post 9/11 air was clean. So I am not sure how reliable and ironclad these test results are. Sounds a bit politically convenient. 8:46 - you just don;t get it, do you - are you going to raise all the property banks along the entire Gowanus with an extra 6 ft of bulkhead? That water is going to go somewhere. NOt a NIMBY attitude - give it up. There should be no building on a flood plain, especially on a hurricane evacuation route, especially along sewage waters that are also toxic.i