Sludge of art! Feds hand over Gowanus toxins for museum exhibit

Sludge of art! Feds hand over Gowanus toxins for museum exhibit
Photo by Tom Callan

Add “museum quality” to the list of adjectives for the gunk at the bottom of the fetid Gowanus Canal.

The Environmental Protection Agency is donating a sample of contaminated canal sediment to Proteus Gowanus, a neighborhood art collective at Union and Nevins streets, which plans to preserve the muck in perpetuity at its Hall of the Gowanus exhibit, an installation designed to show future generations just how gross the former industrial waterway once was.

“We want to give factual accounts of what is going on,” said Eymund Diegel, an urban planner who is working with Proteus as an archivist.

The goal will be to incorporate the Gowanus glop with other area artifacts, capturing the impact of the $500-million federally overseen Superfund clean-up in the neighborhood, and preserving the industrial relics that continue to haunt it.

“This particular soil sample will allow us to tell a lot of stories, which is what cultural memory is all about,” he said.

EPA Project Manager Christos Tsiamis refused to ship the sediment until the group had the appropriate equipment to store the alluvium.

He specifically demanded a “secondary enclosure system, such as a Plexiglas box” for safe keeping of the sludge, which can irritate skin on contact.

Diegel plans to install the sediment in a protective container atop a steel pedestal and call it the “Star of the Gowanus.”

The sludge surface sample was taken near Sackett Street, near the former Fulton Manufactured Gas Plant, one of the three toxic hotspots identified by the feds as a source of the majority of the canal’s pollution.

Diegel still hopes to get his gloves on more samples, including sediment polluted by

coal tar, the toxic byproduct of the gas plant industry.

The art group’s contaminated crap crusade coincides with the EPA’s plan to salvage and study items of archeological significance during the decade-long clean-up.

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