Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gowanus Canal Receives EPA Superfund Designation - Blow To Bloomberg Administration

Trash and raw sewage overflow into the canal when the city's sewer system is overwhelmed by heavy precipitation. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times


The Environmental Protection Agency designated the Gowanus Canalin Brooklyn a Superfund site on Tuesday and announced plans to clean up more than a century’s worth of noxious pollutants there, according to the New York Times.

The decision ended a contentious debate and was a blow to the Bloomberg administration, which had proposed a cleanup without such a designation. The city had argued that the label could set off legal battles with polluters, prolong the dredging operation and spook developers leery of the stigma of a Superfund listing.

But in a conference call with reporters, Judith A. Enck, the E.P.A. administrator for the region, said the Superfund designation would guarantee the best result for residents and the environment and ensure that the polluters cover all the costs.

“We believe that it would get us the most efficient and comprehensive cleanup,” Ms. Enck said.

From Gowanus Bay to New York Harbor, the agency has found contamination along the entire length of the clouded 1.8-mile canal in a preliminary assessment, including pesticides, metals and the cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs.

The agency estimates that the project will last 10 to 12 years and cost $300 million to $500 million. The city estimated that its approach would take nine years.

Read More:
Gowanus Canal Gets Superfund Status
New York Times - March 2, 2010 -  By Mireya Navarro

Gowanus Canal
Photo credit: Josh Verleun

The federal Environmental Protection Agency put the Gowanus Canal on its list of Superfund sites on Tuesday. The 1.8-mile canal in the midst of Brooklyn has been contaminated by heavy industry over the last century. Now the feds are stepping in for the big clean-up. The decision is controversial and will have many repercussions according to The Brooklyn Ink.

Lenore Cho and Sudip Mukherjee delved into the discussion and found out who is for the Superfund declaration and who is against it and what their reasons are.

Pro Superfund:

Clean water activists, community groups and local politicians rejoiced about the declaration, which will likely require extensive clean-up over the next dozen years.

Riverkeeper, a New York watchdog group that studies polluted waterways, has long been an advocate of federal intervention at the canal. Josh Verleun, the group’s attorney and chief investigator, said the Superfund label is extremely helpful because it requires chief polluters named by the E.P.A. to pay for the cleanup activities.

“The E.P.A. can bring these companies to the table and make them financially responsible for their contaminants,” Verleun said. “The Gowanus Canal is a very contaminated site, in need of a complex, expensive remediation. Forcing big-time polluters to pay for their mistakes lightens the burden on federal funding.”

Verleun also worked with various neighborhood groups that strongly supported the idea of Superfund status for the canal, and said 85 percent of the respondents to the E.P.A.’s survey of residents living nearby said they approved of the idea.

One local group, called the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, works to promote community knowledge of, and participation in, the maintenance of the city’s coastal waters. For years, the group has worked with interested residents and area college professors to study the canal, including ways to clean up all the toxic pollution.

“We are very happy with the outcome and think the Superfund (designation) is the beginning of a pathway that leads to a cleaner, better Gowanus Canal,” said Ludger Balan, executive and environmental program director of the Urban Divers.

According to Balan, the waters in the canal are so contaminated that the bulkhead and land surrounding the canal are becoming eroded. Additionally, because of excess water and sewage pooled in the canal, there is more harmful bacterial content in the Gowanus than in any other body in New York City. “The Superfund will bring real efforts to controlling a dangerous problem in Brooklyn,” he said.

Read More:

The Brooklyn Ink - March 2, 2010 - By Lenore Cho and Sudip P. Mukherjee 

Press Release - March 2, 2010 


Tina Posterli, Riverkeeper, 914-478-4501 x 239


Tarrytown, NY – March 2, 2010 – Riverkeeper, New York’s leading clean water advocate, today commended the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to list Brooklyn’s toxic Gowanus Canal on the Superfund National Priorities List. The decision to list the canal will begin a comprehensive effort by the federal EPA to remove 150 years of contamination from the Canal’s murky bottom and to address sites along the Canal’s banks that continue to leach pollution into the waterway.

“After 150 years of abuse and neglect the Gowanus Canal will finally get the comprehensive cleanup that the residents of the area deserve,” stated Josh Verleun, Riverkeeper Attorney & Chief Investigator.

“The toxic legacy of coal tar, PCBs, pesticides, and other contamination of the Gowanus can only be cleaned through a comprehensive Superfund cleanup; we are gratified to see the EPA stepping up to this task.”

Riverkeeper has been a vocal advocate for a Superfund cleanup for the Gowanus since the EPA announced that it was considering the Canal for the federal Superfund program in April, 2009. After reviewing an alternative Gowanus cleanup plan put forth by New York City and determining that it was inadequate, Riverkeeper filed comments with the EPA in support of Superfund, joined with community groups to rally support for Superfund from EPA and elected officials, and launched a letter writing campaign in support of the designation.

Riverkeeper’s efforts to support Superfund are part of a larger focus on halting ongoing pollution of the Gowanus Canal. In September, 2009 Riverkeeper launched a pollution enforcement initiative on the Canal filing three Notices of Intent to Sue against environmental law breakers and sent a warning to another. Violations included dumping of scrap metal and debris into the canal; discharge of liquid cement and stone aggregate; and illegal operation of an open dump. Riverkeeper has also increased boat patrols and water quality testing of the Canal and has established partnerships with law enforcement and other agencies to combat ongoing pollution.


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