EPA Declares Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal a Superfund Site

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today named Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, putting the waterway on the list of the nation’s most polluted waste areas and paving the way for a years-long cleanup process that could upend city officals’ plans to redevelop the neighborhood.

24gowanus_600.jpgBrooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, now a federal Superfund site. (Photo: NYT)

In a statement on the Superfund designation, the EPA noted that contamination was found along the entire length of the 1.8-mile canal, which runs through the Carroll Gardens and Red Hook areas of Brooklyn. Among the toxic materials found in the Gowanus’ sediment were polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and heavy metals.

“After conducting our own evaluations and consulting extensively with
the many people who have expressed interest in the future of the
Gowanus Canal and the surrounding area, we have determined that a
Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily
contaminated and long neglected urban waterway,” EPA regional administrator Judith Enck said in a statement.

“We plan to continue our work with the same
spirit of inclusion and involvement that has already been demonstrated,
and thank everyone for their focus on this pollution problem.”

The New York Times reported last year that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was opposing the prospect of  Superfund status for the canal, proposing instead to use federal and local funds for an alternative Gowanus cleanup plan that would not put new development and rezoning at risk.

The EPA’s decision effectively puts federal officials in charge of restoring the canal to health, a task that can take more than a decade. Of the 1,620 local sites added to the EPA’s Superfund roster over the past three decades, 341 sites have been removed following successful cleanups.

Two op-eds published last spring in the Gotham Gazette offer a point-counterpoint debate on what the Gowanus designation might mean for local residents. The EPA also announced a public meeting on the Gowanus site, to be held this Thursday, March 4th, from 7 pm to 9 pm at P.S. 58, located at 330 Smith Street in Brooklyn.

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