EPA: Gowanus Canal is cleaner than it has been in 150 years

Done!: The Environmental Protection Agency this month completed its pilot dredging-and-capping program inside the Gowanus Canal's Fourth Street Turning Basin.
Photo by Jason Speakman

It’s a bright spot for Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory!

A section of the fetid Gowanus Canal is now cleaner than it has been in more than a century, after workers this month finally wrapped a pilot dredging-and-capping program as part of the channel’s federally led cleanup.

The program in the Fourth Street Turning Basin kicked off more than a year ago, in October of 2017, and finished more than six months after its initial April 2018 deadline — but the delay is a small price to pay for finally removing some of the toxic “black mayonnaise” from the canal’s floor, according to the man leading the scrub.

“It’s the first time that a portion of the canal has a clean bottom in 150 years — let’s give it an applause,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Christos Tsiamis told local members of the Gowanus Community Advisory Group at a Tuesday meeting.

Last December, the program, one of the first phases of the channel’s slow-going cleanse, got stuck in the muck weeks after it began, when workers created cracks in canal-adjacent land — including the ground below the pedestrian promenade outside Third Street’s Whole Foods — while using massive machines to drive new protective bulkheads into the waterway’s banks.

That setback stalled the job until March, when the Feds resumed their work digging up the noxious sediment from the canal’s bottom, which they made deeper before capping it to prevent other harmful chemicals from seeping in.

And now that it’s done, Tsiamis said the leaders of the cleanse know how to avoid similar problems as they move forward with the scrub.

“We have drawn our conclusions on what means and methods we are going to use in order to clean up the canal properly,” he said.

Earlier this year, Tsiamis told locals there was no end in sight for the Gowanus Canal’s cleanup, which kicked off in 2016 with an initial completion year of 2022.

But officials now believe by spring they’ll be able to start counting down to the end of cleanse in months, not years, almost a decade after the Feds declared it a Superfund site in 2010.

“By spring, we will be able to start the countdown of the cleanup in months, not in years,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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