The federal government has widened its search for the culprits responsible for making the Gowanus Canal one of the most polluted spots in the nation, giving it the dishonor of being named a Superfund site earlier this week.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program does not dole out cash for a clean-up, but raises it by cajoling, strong-arming — and, in some cases, suing — parties responsible for the initial pollution.
From the outset, the agency identified many of the usual suspects as responsible for the conditions in the so-called Lavender Lake — a list that includes Con Ed, National Grid, Chemtura, the U.S. Navy for some World War II-related uses and the City of New York.
But at a public meeting at PS 58 on Smith Street on Thursday night, the feds revealed another 20 potential polluters, a list that includes one of America’s most-beloved food brands and one of the villains from the current economic malaise.
The crowd of 500 chuckled when Walter Mugdan, the regional director of the Superfund program, announced that Kraft Foods and Citigroup might be soaked to help pay for the $500-million, 12-year clean-up.
More obvious companies, such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Conoco were also on the new list.
In all cases, the companies have received formal “information request letters” that ask the recipient to provide detailed information about past activities along the canal.
“In all likelihood, some of the [companies under investigation] will be in that group [of responsible polluters],” said Mugdan.
But the official — who was greeted with rousing applause by Superfund supporters — hastened to add that these companies had not yet been found responsible for any pollution, and that they were not likely “active polluters.”
Instead, they are the legal inheritors of companies that polluted the canal from as long ago as its glory days in the 1880s.
Mugdan added that some of the companies on the list — like Exxon and Chevron — are no strangers to Superfund expenses.
“They have been involved in other Superfund sites,” he said. “They know the routine.”
A spokesman for the EPA said that details about the possible polluting activities of Kraft (was it the Velveeta?) and Citigroup (the slimy credit default swaps?) could not be disclosed until the companies respond sometime in the spring.
A spokeswoman for Kraft told The Brooklyn Paper that the EPA is seeking information about a “New York Tartar Company” facility that operated along the canal in the early to mid-1900s. Citigroup did not get back to us.
One company that is definitely on the hook is National Grid, which is the inheritor of the environmental disaster left behind by Brooklyn Union Gas, a union of three companies that operated along the Gowanus from roughly 1860 to the 1950s, according to Mugdan. The companies would render coal into gas, then dump the useless by-product, “coal tar,” in the canal, which is now the dominant contaminant in the sediment.
As they wait for the news of more polluters of the canal stretching from Butler Street to Gowanus Bay, locals can look forward to EPA scientists and sub-contractors conducting research in the area for the rest of this year in preparation for a proposed plan to clean it up.
An EPA spokesman later added that the EPA’s search for polluters “never stops,” even as the clean-up gets underway.
Here is the full list of the potentially responsible polluters:
Cibro Petroleum Products, Inc.
City of New York
Consolidated Edison Company Of New York, Inc.
National Grid USA
Rapid American Corp.
Bayside Fuel Oil
Patterson Energy Group
E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co.
Rio Tinto Alcan
AkzoNobel Polymer Chemicals
Algrun Metals & Minerals