Thursday, December 27, 2012

EPA Region 2 Releases Its Proposed Plan For The Superfund Clean-Up Of The Gowanus Canal


As planned, EPA Region 2 just released its proposed plan for the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal. This is great news for the Gowanus Community. Even better news still is that the proposed plan also includes "controls to prevent raw sewage overflows and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup."
It's a huge step, which brings us ever so closer to actually starting the actual clean-up of the polluted waterway. The fact that the proposed plan addresses the Combined Sewer Overflow is a major victory for neighborhood residents, who had advocated that the CSO issue be resolved.
Below is the EPA press release:

EPA Proposes Plan for Cleaning Up Gowanus Canal
Multi-million Dollar Cleanup to Revitalize Polluted Brooklyn Waterway

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a proposed cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal that includes removing some of the contaminated sediment and capping dredged areas. The proposed plan also includes controls to prevent raw sewage overflows and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup. The cost of the cleanup plan is expected to be between $467 and $504 million.

The EPA will accept public comments on its proposed plan until March 28, 2013. The EPA will hold
public meetings on January 23, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at Public School 58 (the Carroll School), 330 Smith
Street, Brooklyn and on January 24, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at the Joseph Miccio Community Center, 110
West 9th Street, Brooklyn to discuss the proposed plan and answer questions.

“The proposed cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal will make essential progress in removing toxic
contaminants from this heavily polluted and battered waterway,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional
Administrator. “Our overall goal is to reduce pollution and protect the health of people who live and
work in this community. The EPA encourages people to attend the January public meetings on the
proposed plan and submit written comments no later than March 28.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy 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 and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected to be cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects as well. Consumption of fish from the canal continues to this day notwithstanding fish advisories.

Completed in the mid-1800s, the Gowanus Canal was once a major industrial transportation route.
Manufactured gas plants, paper mills, tanneries and chemical plants are among the many facilities that
operated along the canal. As a result of years of discharges, stormwater runoff, raw sewage overflows
from sewer systems that carry sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains and
industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most seriously contaminated
water bodies. In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was added to the Superfund list of the nation’s most
contaminated hazardous waste sites. The EPA has identified numerous parties that are potentially
responsible for the contamination including National Grid and the city of New York.

The evaluation of the alternatives for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal was divided into three segments
that correspond to the upper, middle and lower portions of the canal. The first segment, which runs
from the top of the canal to 3rd Street, and the 2nd segment, which runs from 3rd Street to just south of
the Hamilton Avenue Bridge, contain the most heavily-contaminated sediment. In the third segment,
which runs from the Hamilton Avenue Bridge to the mouth of the canal, the sediment is less
contaminated than sediment in the other segments.

For the first and second segments of the canal, the EPA is proposing to dredge approximately 307,000
cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment. In some areas where the sediment is contaminated with
liquid coal tar, the EPA is proposing to stabilize the sediment by mixing it with concrete or similar
materials. The stabilized areas would then be covered with multiple layers of clean material, including
an “active” layer made of a specific type of clay that will remove PAH contamination that could well up from below, an “isolation” layer of sand and gravel that will ensure that the contaminants are not
exposed, and an “armor” layer of heavier gravel and stone to prevent erosion of the underlying layers
from boat traffic and currents. Finally, clean sand would be placed on top of the “armor” layer to restore the canal bottom as a habitat. The plan also calls for removing contaminated material placed in the 1st Street Turning Basin decades ago.

For the third segment, the EPA is proposing to dredge 281,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment
and cap the area with an armor layer and a layer of sand to help restore habitat.

The proposed plan includes various methods for managing the contaminated sediment after dredging,
depending on the levels of contamination. The proposed methods include transporting the dredged
sediment to an off-site permitted disposal facility, transporting it to a location where the sediment can
be treated and the possible beneficial reuse of some of the sediment after treatment.

In addition, the proposed plan calls for additional controls to significantly reduce combined sewer
overflows into the canal. The EPA is concerned that such overflows would contribute to the
recontamination of the canal after its cleanup. The EPA is proposing that combined sewer overflow
discharges from two major outfalls in the upper portion of the canal be outfitted with controls to reduce
the total volume of discharges from those outfalls by 58% to 74%.

Contaminated land sites along the canal, including three former manufactured gas plants, are being
addressed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Other potential sources
of continuing contaminant discharges to the canal have been referred to the state of New York and will
be investigated and addressed as necessary.

Written comments on the proposed plan should be addressed to:
Christos Tsiamis
Project Manager
Central New York Remediation Section
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
290 Broadway, 20th Floor
New York, New York 10007-1866
OR, contact Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator, at 212-637-3639,

To read EPA’s proposed plan for the Gowanus Canal site or for more information on the canal, visit or visit the EPA’s document repositories at the Carroll Gardens Library at 396 Clinton St. in Brooklyn or the Joseph Miccio Community Center, 110 West 9th Street, Brooklyn. The documents will be available in the repositories on December 28, 2012.

For a Google Earth aerial view of the Gowanus Canal, visit  (Please note that you must have Google Earth installed on your computer to view the map. To download Google Earth, visit

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at and visit our Facebook page,


Anonymous said...

Does the plan address rising sea levels at all? Will the remedy and cost be worth it if the Gowanus overflows by end of the century?

Anonymous said...

and how would you suggest the remedy fix sea level rise? build a wall around the entire NY Harbor?

Anonymous said...

Higher sea walls are unnessary - a $400K balloon under the Hamilton Avenue bridge will prevent Gowanus flooding. see:

The EPA plans should include a balloon.

Anonymous said...

Rising sea waters are a global issue and not addressed by this local project. However, once the pollution in the Canal is remediated and capped and the COS issue properly addressed, the next time the Canal overflows its banks, the issue will "only" be flooding, not also contamination.

Not sure if Anonymous 2:43 is being facetious, but the balloons discussed in the NY Times article are designed for tunnels, not open waters.

Anonymous said...

Maybe since the sea levels are supposed to rise ten feet, build the bulkheads ten feet higher? wiht a system of locks so they are lower during rainfalls, higher during storms? for a half billion dollars, we should be getting a complete solution here - if not, the Gowanus will be permanently over bond street to 4th avenue by end of the century and the half a billion would be a 30-50 year "solution"

Anonymous said...

The balloons are designed for tunnels & the Hamilton Avenue Bridge is a "tunnel" entrance to the Canal that is partially flooded by tidal waters. The engineers can make it work if the EPA is willing to pay.

Sandy's elevation was 3ft above normal high tide. Designing for 10 ft would be wasteful. see: