Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup barge sinks

gowanus bay
Barges moored in the distance off Gowanus Bay seen from Columbia Street on Jan. 26.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A large barge loaded with more than 800 tons of polluted sludge from the Gowanus Canal sank in the Gowanus Bay Monday, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The boat containing the dredged sediment from the canal bed laced with toxic materials like coal tar was moored in Gowanus Bay and became submerged, Massachusetts-based contractor Cashman Dredging discovered on Jan. 25, according to EPA.

The vessel, named Weeks 76,  sank in an area of the harbor called the Bay Ridge flats, a 8-20 foot deep shoal area off the coast of Sunset Park, EPA rep for the Gowanus cleanup Natalie Loney told the local watchdog organization the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Tuesday evening. 

The boat sank in the Bay Ridge Flats, pictured in light blue in section 10 of the map.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Cashman mobilized pumps, booms, and silt curtains to the location and pumped water from the vessel into a different empty barge during low tide as the beleaguered boat rested upright on mudflats, according to the agency.

The agency said that the contractor discovered a small hole on the barge’s hull, which likely let water leak into it slowly, according to an update EPA released Wednesday evening. The barge became submerged to varying degrees depending on the tide cycle.

After pumping all the water out of the boat and bringing it back afloat, Cashman patched the hole and — with U.S. Coast Guard approval — maneuvered the watercraft back to the Superfund staging site and Huntington and Smith streets.

The beleaguered barge, named Weeks 76, docked in the Gowanus Canal at Huntington Street on Jan. 27.Photo by Kevin Duggan

On Jan. 22, Cashman loaded the barge up with some 850 tons of filthy Gowanus sludge, known locally as black mayonnaise, as part of the ongoing Superfund Cleanup, but luckily most of the slime stayed in the container and there weren’t any immediate signs of pollution in the waters, according to EPA.

“No visible sheens were observed after the incident was noted and initial observations indicate that the bulk of the sediment in the hopper container within the barge remains in place,” the agency wrote.

The agency claimed that no negative impacts resulted from the incident, but that it will continue to investigate it.

“While EPA is confident that no adverse impacts to human health resulted from this incident, EPA takes this incident seriously and is reviewing field operations associated with this Superfund cleanup,” the Jan. 27 update read.

The federally-managed dredging of the upper third of the Gowanus Canal launched in November to scoop out polluted sediment, before stabilizing the ground and capping it with a protective layer. 

Smaller barges transfer the filthy sediment to larger watercraft at the Public Place site at Smith and Fifth streets, before shipping out across the bay to be processed in New Jersey.