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Kicking the tar habit: Gowanus Canal site cleanup begins

A highly contaminated former refinery that is “bleeding” coal sludge into the Gowanus Canal will take at least three years to clean before the city can implement its plan to put housing and open public space there.

The cleanup of the so-called Public Place, a long-abandoned city-owned plot bounded by Fifth, Smith and Huntington streets and the Gowanus Canal, entails removing eight feet of tainted soil and installing a barrier to stop the ongoing leakage of coal tar into the waterway from soil below the area to be cleaned.

In some parts of the site, where coal tar concentrations are the highest, the sludge will be sucked out.

Public Place “is still bleeding tar into the canal,” said Gardiner Cross, from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

But he said the site could be remediated — and future residents would not be in danger.

Such a cleanup will lead to “a significant improvement from a human and ecological point of view,” he said.

The state revealed the cleanup plans to Community Board 6 on Monday night. National Grid, the energy giant that now owns the original polluter, Keyspan, will carry out the dirty work, which might unleash foul odors or even polluted dust on nearby residents.

That possibility alarmed some residents, given that the work is already underway.

The city says it’s currently only removing grass and above-ground debris, which it says is not polluted, unlike the subterranean mess yet to come.

The remediation is the first step towards building hundreds of units of housing — roughly half of them at below-market rates — community space and a public esplanade on Public Place, part of the Bloomberg Administration’s vision for a thriving residential and recreational frontier along the odoriferous canal.

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