Gallery: Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal Gets Superfund Status


The EPA announced this week the addition of 10 hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. One of the sites added to the NPL is the super-famous and now Superfunded Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. The inner-city canal, once home to booming industry is now classified as one of the most toxic waterways in the country. Amidst a scuffle between Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to clean-up the waterway without the Superfund stamp, developers’ desire for it to be left alone, and activists who want to return it to its natural state, the national government swept in to save it.

The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to link industry along its banks to New York Harbor. For years factories along its banks dumped raw sewage, chemicals and garbage into the water without reprimand. The canal is home to no known wildlife — it’s oxygen levels actually can’t support life, although it does boast such residents as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs, and volatile organic contaminants. The canal is known to most New Yorkers as a smelly toxic mess, though in recent years activists have been trying to give it a better name.

The National Priorities List is meant to designate contaminated sites as dangerous for human or environmental health and to propose a plan for cleanup and restoration. There are two means of paying for the cleanup. If responsible parties are unknown the funds come from special government allocations. If the responsible parties can be proven, a lengthy legal battle generally follows where the government attempts to force the parties to pay for the cleanup. The Gowanus Canal falls into the latter category and opponents of the Superfund designation — namely Mayor Bloomberg — asserted that government process takes too long and that the city could clean the canal quicker. Others — namely developers looking to cash in on the barren land around the canal — didn’t want a designation or cleanup for fear of the stigma being attached to their projects.

Now Bloomberg has lost and must turn over his plans for cleanup to the government. Of the 1,610 hazardous waste sites added to the NPL since its implementation in 1980, 341 of the sites have been totally rehabilitated and were removed from the list. Though the EPA does state that being added to the NPL commences a long term cleanup process, we’re wondering how “long term” this cleanup is going to be.

Via The Environmental Protection Agency


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  1. NYC Mayor Bloomberg Ann... October 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    […] their fair share of brownfields, and currently there’s two superfund sites in Brooklyn, the Gowanus Canal and Newton Creek. One of the problems the city must get around is its antiquated water system, […]

  2. Gowanus Canal Mud To Be... September 10, 2010 at 10:44 am

    […] vitrification process is as environmentally friendly as possible. Due to the toxic content of the canal mud, a filter is even used to catch emissions that would be created from heating the […]

  3. Gowanus Canal in New Yo... July 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    […] long used as an industrial dumping ground for the factories that line its sides. Now the canal is a Superfund site — a site designated by the EPA as being harmful to the people and environment it borders […]

  4. Green-Roofed Eco City R... July 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    […] the design of the water-centered development, which would create an artificial channel off the main canal. This new channel is the main axis around which the development sits and leads directly into the […]

  5. Kristi Bernick March 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I hope they start cleaning soon! Gowanus is a wonderful area and there are such great advantages to a canal…if only we could use it. Assuming the canal gets clean I know there are plenty of proposals for renovation in the area that allows landscape to be a driving force. Industrial architecture neighborhood meets green architecture renovation…can you imagine the wonderland?!

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