Gowanus Canal Residents to EPA: How About That Raw Sewage While You’re at It?

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After a decade-long, $500 million attempt to clean up the Gowanus Canal — the hapless recipient of industrial spill-off from culprits like Con Ed, the U.S. Navy, and petroleum companies — the EPA finally got around to declaring the intermittently malodorous waterway a federal Superfund site. That means that cost of the cleanup is shifted from the city to the polluter. But now that the EPA has started its cleanup, which should take, oh say, "ten to twelve years," they're balking at addressing the matter of the raw sewage that spills over into the canal from storm-water pipes during a heavy rainfall. What, you don't like walking by Union Street bridge after it rains? It strengthens your immune system! You know, from fighting off all those fecal molecules you just inhaled. See, the Feds were more concerned about the legacy pollution buried in the sediment along the 1.8-mile waterway, which snakes through a gentrifying area of Brooklyn. But now that critics have mentioned the 300 million gallons of sewage water that flows into the canal each year, they've decided to consider it.

But the EPA says it's only willing to act if tests reveal that "the noxious chemical cocktail at the bottom of the waterway contains substances such as PCBs, volatile organic compounds, pesticides and metals." Unfortunately, earlier tests have already shown that the sewage overflow only (only!!!) contains biological pathogens — and possibly gonorrhea, although, really, that could have come from anywhere.

It should be noted that the canal is not the only area of New York to be affected by the sewage overflow. The Bronx, for example, had a 15 percent exceedance rate (presumably exceedance of acceptable fecal levels), compared to Kings County's 6 percent.

Feds may watch the Gowanus Canal’s waste line [Brooklyn Paper]