An environmental activist’s plan to swim the entire length of the toxic Gowanus Canal is a fool’s mission that could land him in the hospital — or worse — warned the nation’s most important environmental agency on Tuesday.
“The EPA strongly advises AGAINST swimming in the #Gowanus Canal,” tweeted out the Environmental Protection Agency — at The Brooklyn Paper, of course — on Tuesday after learning of activist Christopher Swain’s plan to don a drysuit and traverse the canal from its rear-end to its mouth.
The agency then linked to a 2011 fact sheet explaining numerous ways such a dip in Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory — or a simple walk along it shores — could be hazardous to your health.
But Swain says he is going full-steam-ahead despite the warning, thanks to the fact that his special suit will keep the elements off his skin — and the feds have no authority to stop him.
“I know what I’m getting into,” he told The Brooklyn Paper on Tuesday.
It is a good thing he has his gear, because the feds warn that if any of the canal’s “water” touches your skin, the skin should be immediately washed with real water to remove any so-called “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” — cancer-causing pollutants to me and you — and bacteria.
The feds also recommend seeking immediate medical assistance if a swimmer feels sick in any way after swimming in the canal.
And heaven forbid Swain accidentally swallows a crab that calls the Gowanus home while making his swim. According to the agency, those bottom-dwellers have considerably more contaminants in their bodies than their cousins living in cleaner waterways like the Hudson River and the harbor.
Swain won’t be the only one at risk during his swim, according to the feds. Its fact sheet also points out that the huddled masses who plan to watch Swain’s historic swim from the banks of the canal should resist the urge to garden while he swims by, and should clean their hands and arms thoroughly if they touch the dirt around the canal. They also should not eat any food that grows on its shores. The feds consider those recommendations “common sense.”
On the bright side, the agency does not consider breathing along the canal hazardous to your health — but that doesn’t mean it is a pleasant experience, especially after a rainstorm.
Swain’s says he’s taking a dip on Earth Day to call attention to the slow-moving federal cleanup of the canal and its surrounding neighborhood, claiming it is about time the area finally got cleaned up after years of abuse.
“We split the atom, we went to the moon,” he said. “Why can’t we clean up a 1.8 mile canal to the point of being able to swim in it?”
Christopher Swain swims the Gowanus Canal (starting at Butler Street between Bond and Nevins streets in Gowanus). April 22 at noon. Free.