EPA in no rush to Superfund; more tests coming for filthy canal

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Hopes for the Gowanus Canal to quickly be designated a Superfund site were reined in last Thursday night as a top federal official cautioned that it is very rare for a proposal to be approved in less than a year.

“It is unusual for a Superfund listing to be made in less than one year, even for sites that aren’t as controversial as this one,” said Walter Mugdan, the regional Superfund director for the Environmental Protection Agency, which started the Gowanus process in April.

Given how much time has passed — and how much is already known about the toxic corpse of water — hopes were high that this informational meeting would actually serve as the forum for announcing the Superfund designation.

No such luck.

Instead, Project Manager Christos Tsiamis explained that even before Superfund designation is achieved, the EPA will conduct another battery of tests in the canal zone to determine the level of human risk presented by the filthy waterway, as well as point the way toward the ideal clean-up method.

Superfund designation for the Gowanus Canal, running parallel to Third Avenue from Douglas to Ninth streets, would set into motion a scramble for funds from companies (and their successors) identified as responsible for polluting it over the past two centuries.

The list includes oil companies, the energy giant National Grid and even the U.S. Navy and the city of New York, whose faulty sewer systems dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into the canal every year.

The Bloomberg administration has its own plan for cleaning the canal, one that it says will be faster and avoid the stigma of Superfund designation in a neighborhood lusted over by many private developers. But many locals believe that the federal effort will be more comprehensive, even though it is likely to be slower and, like the city plan, does not fix the sewage overflows, which would cost billions to remedy.

Regardless of the dueling plans, the EPA is moving ahead with tests as if the designation were just around the corner. Here are some interesting aspects of the research that was set to begin this week:

• Further analysis of the 10–12 feet of industrial waste in the canal.

• Further analysis of the six feet of “native” sediment below the toxic junk.

• A study of the 200 “discharge pipes” feeding raw sewage into the canal, as well as a search for any others that have yet to be found. Researchers will also hunt down the source of all the pipes.

• Digging small, unobtrusive wells roughly three to six inches in diameter that will measure the contamination in the soil around the canal.

A timetable also emerged at the meeting.

Superfund designation should be announced sometime in early 2010. In the meantime, EPA officials said the sampling will begin and continue until late in the summer of 2010, which they will then analyzed by the end of that year.

Then, the agency will prepare a “feasibility study” proposing various methods for cleaning up the contamination, which it will file in late 2011. Then, the EPA — barring any delays, of course — will choose a plan of attack for cleaning the Gowanus Canal in 2012.

Updated 5:15 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

tony g from gowanus says:
give me a break,,what a load of crap
Dec. 4, 2009, 8:36 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Why won't this paper publish the full list? I would like to know as I'm sure your readers would be interested in who's on the list?
Dec. 4, 2009, 1:47 pm
Jef from BathBeach says:
Wouldn't it be easier to just fill the canal in and plant grass and trees over it. The canal has been an eyesore for decades.
The raw sewage flowing into the canal should have never been in the first place. The pipes need to be re-routed elsewhere to a sewerage plant.

I think most of the problem is that there is no outlet for the water to flow, thus stagnation. Not sure if the flushing tunnel still works or not.
Dec. 4, 2009, 3:49 pm
Jo Jo from the hill says:
the city's plan is faster only because they won't be going anything. The city will just go back to declaring the thing "clean enough".
Dec. 4, 2009, 5:14 pm
Peter from Carroll Gardens says:
The same artist types who shriek that the canal is so polluted that it must be declared a Superfund site enjoyed frolicking in an exclusive swimming pool along the Canal's banks last summer. Really Superfund is code for keeping the area super cheap so that the "artists" can enjoy a sweet deal and not spend a lot of funds. Some might call them "con artists."

The Superfund designation is a joke. There is no point in cleaning up the canal if the raw sewage and contaminated rainwater continue to flow into the canal every time it rains. A total waste of everyone's time and money.

And an agency that will take 30 years to do a worthless job is just monsterously Kafkaesque. The city plan to clean the canal and restore the flushing tunnel so that the canal won't smell and will be perfectly safe so long as you don't go in the water is more logical and practical.

And if we are going to force a Federal Superfund designation on the area lets also enforce the Federal Clean Water Act and stop dumping all that untreated raw sewage into the Canal.

It is no excuse that failure to comply with the law would cost too much. Figure out a way to do it. At least re route the sewage into the bay which is a larger body of water where it won't be so concentrated.
Dec. 5, 2009, 2:19 pm
d from ps says:
The article notes that the EPA will test "to determine the level of human risk presented by the filthy waterway" -- if the risk eventually is determined to be super high then the city and state will be liable for the cancer caused by the waterway to residents in the area -- why wait for that -- if the area is unfit for the city's proposed new developments, then it is unfit for anyone now to continue to live there. The area should be vacated and the area cordoned off as a sofety hazard now. Noone should live there, especially children.
Dec. 9, 2009, 6:39 pm

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