Thanks to New York’s industrial past, many of our waterways, including the Gowanus Canal, Newtwon Creek, and the Hudson River are horribly polluted — in fact, all three of those have been named Superfund sites, putting them among the most toxic sites in the nation. One of the biggest problems in the Hudson River is coal tar, a nasty substance notoriously hard to remove. For the last 18 months, engineers have been testing a new way to removed the pollutants — by placing mattress-sized “sponges” in the Hudson River to absorb toxins.
During the last week of November, utility workers from Central Hudson Gas & Electric and engineers from the Electric Power Research Institute began removing the 75 absorbent panels from the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, about 80 miles north of New York City. The panels — made of organo-clay, a mineral that draws oil to it like a magnet — had been in place since May 2009 and are specifically designed to remove coal tar from riverbeds. Normally, organo-clay is sprinkled on the polluted site, then the soil is dredged or excavated, but the Poughkeepsie site was too challenging for the machinery because of the river depth and strong current.
Details about the effectiveness of the panels are not yet available, as Central Hudson has yet to finish testing the 10,000 square feet of panels that were removed. If the results are positive, the panels could be installed permanently in Poughkeepsie and used in similarly polluted sites. Coal tar clean-up is the third most expensive type of clean-up in New York, and the panels hold the promise of making it more affordable since they require less machinery.