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‘Toxic avenger’ conquers, tastes Gowanus Canal

The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

1/15
The water’s fine: Activist Christopher Swain predicts everything will be a-okay for his second dip in the toxic Gownaus Canal. What could possibly go wrong?
2/15
Suited up: Swain’s protective outfit is part dive gear, part hazardous-materials suit to keep the filthy waters of Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory off his skin.
3/15
Stairway to hell: Swain descends off the Union Street Bridge to a kayak below.
4/15
And he’s in!: Swain hops out of the kayak and into the fetid waterway.
5/15
Off and racing: Swain starts paddling though the gonorrhea-ridden waters with his support crew trailing behind.
6/15
More like super-fun site: You can’t wipe the grin off Swain’s face — now splashed with all manner of toxic chemicals and diseases — as he breast-strokes through the canal!
7/15
On the beat: New York’s Finest were in attendence to make sure no one attempted anything dangerous.
8/15
Teamwork: Swain keeps in constant communication with his saftey kayaker Nicole Butterfield.
9/15
Selfie slick: Swain and Butterfield stop for a happy snap mid-way through the waters that have killed several marine mammals.
10/15
So far so good: Swain approaches the Gowanus Expressway.
11/15
Barging through: Swain passes the Hamilton Asphalt Plant. Not long to go now!
12/15
Last leg: Swain keeps his game face on in the final strokes, still trying to keep the toxic water out of his mouth.
13/15
Victory: Swain’s support crew raise their oars in joy, as he reaches his goal.
14/15
It came from beneath the canal: Swain emerges from the deep.
15/15
History in the making: Christopher Swain — and the nation — breathes a sigh of relief as he becomes the first man to swim the entire Gowanus Canal.

The taste of this victory was not so sweet.

Activist Christopher Swain finally made good on his promise to become the first person to swim the full length of the Gowanus Canal on Saturday after an abortive attempt in April, in a history-making plunge that took the dank diver through nearly two miles of bacteria, toxic sludge, garbage, and raw sewage — some of which he couldn’t avoid swallowing.

Still, Swain said, it didn’t taste or smell quite so gross this time around.

“In April, it had rained the day before, so a lot of the sewage taste was there,” said Swain, who ultimately navigated the full gauntlet of filth in 72 minutes. “This time the sewage wasn’t as noted in the bouquet. There was more hydraulic fluid, metals, and paint chips than there was poop.”

Swain breast-stroked through the gonorrhea-tainted body of water with his head leaning way back to avoid the waves of pollution, but nevertheless said he had to stop on three separate occasions to gargle out the garbage with mouthfuls of hydrogen peroxide.

Beyond the noxious flavors of Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory, Swain said he also found himself splashing through a film of emulsified grease, fats, and oils that had swept into the canal via the sewers, which he likened to the soapy layer of a bubble bath.

“It was really weird, disgusting, and a new experience for me,” said Swain, who made his high-profile paddle to highlight the sludge-like pace of the federal cleanup of the channel.

But that didn’t stop him from pausing periodically throughout his journey to take water samples and photographs of the canal’s ickiest bits, which he plans on using as a way to teach science and history to filthy-minded students at schools throughout the city.

“If you took a cross section of the sludge in the canal, that’s a cross-section of the industrial history of the city,” Swain said. “And kids love it — it’s got poop, trash and the perception of danger.”

Swain emerged from the canal exhibiting no immediate mutations or diseases — which he credited largely to the combination dive and hazardous-materials suit he constructed for the attempt.

“My exposure control plan was really good. I probably wasn’t getting any water on me,” he said.

He then washed off and gurgled hydrogen peroxide one last time, before heading over to Gowanus’s Ample Hills Creamery to enjoy a huge sundae made from the ice cream store’s signature canal-inspired chocolate fudge flavor It Came From Gowanus, which he said was delicious but had a lot in common with the real thing.

“They’re both overwhelmi­ng,” he said. “The whipped scream part of it does stand in well for the foam.”

Updated 4:11 pm, October 12, 2017: Updated with full story.
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Reasonable discourse

jjm from c. hill says:
Ok good for him, now what? Its still dirty & its gonna stay dirty for more years to come. People out here got bills high a$$ rent to pay but yet fools like this guy has no other worries in the world other than to swim in the gowanus smh.
Oct. 19, 2015, 7:42 am
aha from Gowanus says:
We had the fool on the hill, now we have the fool in the canal.

Wonder if he'll put this on his resume. Perhaps he'll apply for a job at a sewage treatment plant!

God only knows what he's thinking, or not?
Oct. 19, 2015, 9:51 am
jjm from c. hill says:
I say flood it with even more filth & see if he can survive it again.
Oct. 19, 2015, 11:13 am
diehipster from Crushing Calebs says:
"Looooook attttt meeeeeeeee!!!!!"
Oct. 19, 2015, 4:07 pm
Stardust from Williamsburg says:
Sounds delicious *being ironic
LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!

Ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!

Ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oct. 20, 2015, 1:54 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
In 20 years it will be an aquatic theme park, and you with your "rent to pay" will be long bounced. Flip flip bounce. Aright y'all skooch now skiddy along don't be up to no mischief.
Oct. 21, 2015, 9:24 am

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