Environmental Protection Agency Previews Gowanus Cleanup Plan

10/19/2011 9:50 AM |

Will there be swimmers and sharks here again one day?

  • Will there be swimmers and sharks here again one day?

Since the Gowanus Canal was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Superfund sites last year, there has been no information about what exactly the EPA will be doing there, not to mention how long it will take. But at a Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group meeting held on Monday to discuss water quality in the industrial canal, the EPA’s Gowanus project manager spilled the beans.

The Federal agency’s plan, the Park Slope Patch reports, is to attack the canal in three sections, starting from its inlandmost end and working towards the mouth. There are three major industrial sites where coal tar from underground bulkheads is seeping into the waterway; those will be the focus of the cleanup operation. The EPA’s other main concerns are the sources of stormwater drainage and raw sewage that feed into the canal. Finally, the entire thing will have to be dredged, and an oil-absorbing skin laid along the canal bottom to absorb whatever’s left.

But it was clear from EPA Gowanus Canal Project Manager Christos Tsiamis’s three-hour briefing that there will be something left: “We found that there was no clean and reliable surface, so some will be left behind.”

And what will happen to all that toxic sludge—approximately 500,000 cubic yards of it—dredged off the bottom of the canal? Depends how toxic it is. Either it will be processed onsite and hopefully turned into cement for bulkheads or, if too toxic, placed in containment units. Other, less desirable solutions would have the contaminated sediment transported by barge to be processed in New Jersey or upstate New York. Worst case scenario—and this sounds pretty bad—more than a century worth of industrial deposits would be dumped in a landfill. (That would be the EPA’s last resort, Tsiamis assured attendees of the meeting.)

And how long will this all take? Hopefully by 2020, after which there will be a post-cleanup evaluation period of five years and then the EPA will file its final report. In the more immediate future, a closer-to-final draft of the agency’s Gowanus feasibility plan will be ready for public review in time for the holidays—making it the ideal stocking stuffer.