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EPA Reports Early Progress on the Investigation of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

Release Date: 04/30/2010
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov; Mary Mears (212) 637-3673, mears.mary@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) The City of New York and National Grid have agreed to take environmental samples at a number of their current and former properties along the Gowanus Canal in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing investigation of the contaminated waterway. The Gowanus Canal was added to the federal Superfund list of the most contaminated hazardous waste sites in March 2010. The investigation, which will lay the groundwork for the cleanup of the canal, entails sampling to determine the extent of the existing contamination in the canal and where that contamination might be continuing to enter it.

Contaminants in the canal include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

“EPA’s investigation of the Gowanus Canal is already moving forward, and these agreements will allow even more work to be done in the very near term,” said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “A comprehensive cleanup of the canal can best be accomplished when we have the cooperation of all parties, and I commend the City of New York and National Grid for their cooperation to date.”

The city and National Grid both signed legally-binding agreements that commit them to drill wells on their properties that will allow them to sample the ground water. The water, which makes its way into the canal, may be contributing to the contamination. In order to achieve a comprehensive cleanup of the canal, ongoing sources of contamination must be eliminated and this investigative work is critical to that effort.

Under the two separate agreements, the city will install 14 wells, located at the city’s Hamilton Avenue Asphalt Plant, Butler Street Pumping Station, and the former Brooklyn BRT Power Station at Smith and 9th Street near the elevated subway. Similarly, National Grid will add three wells near the former Fulton Street coal gasification plant to supplement the existing wells at its three area sites. The wells are scheduled to be installed late this spring and the data that is collected will be submitted to EPA in 3 months. The agreements also require the city and National Grid to reimburse EPA for the cost of overseeing its work.

In addition, EPA continues its work and has identified other locations where wells can be installed on properties along the canal. These wells will also be used to locate sources of contamination and determine the influence of contaminated ground water on the Gowanus Canal. The Agency plans to install these wells in late spring and early summer 2010.

In January 2010, EPA completed a study of variations in depth for the entire length of the canal. During that same period, the Agency began sampling to characterize the contamination in the deep sediment of the canal. This sampling has been completed, and the Agency will soon begin sampling the surface of the sediment, the water in the canal, and the air along the banks to provide information needed to complete an assessment of risks to the ecology of the area and human health.

This past March, the Gowanus Canal became the first site in New York City to be added to the Superfund list in more than a decade. Completed in 1869, the Gowanus Canal was once a major transportation route. Manufactured gas plants, paper mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal. As a result of years of discharges, stormwater runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies.

For more information on the Gowanus Canal, including a copy of the agreements, go to: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/gowanus/. For a Google Earth aerial view of the Gowanus Canal: http://www.epa.gov/region2/kml/gowanus_creek_and_gowanus_canal.kmz.

(Please note that you must have Google Earth installed on your computer to view the map. To download Google Earth, visit http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html).

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Gowanus Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=195975002808.

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