Superfund answers are lacking

It’s been barely four weeks since the Environmental Protection Agency moved to declare the Gowanus Canal a federal Superfund site, but that’s enough time for hysteria, misinformation and defamation to bubble to the surface of this debate.

As in past development battles, the dearth of information has allowed the uninformed to set the agenda and control the vocabulary of this debate. This is not the way to hash out any issue as important as the future of the Gowanus Canal zone.

So before residents can reach any kind of consensus, we need these answers:

How dangerous is the canal? We know we wouldn’t want to go swimming in it, thanks to those noxious chemicals in the sediment, but is the canal unsafe to be around? Has the government registered higher rates of cancer or illness among current workers and residents? In short, does the Gowanus Canal represent an actual health threat beyond its stinkiness after heavy rains?

What would be the scale of the clean-up? Would this clean-up simply ensure a flow of somewhat cleaner water through the canal. Or would it involve dredging the entire two miles, disposing of the toxic soil, remediating all the brownfields along the canal and then re-routing antiquated city sewer lines so that raw sewage no longer spills into the waterway during heavy rainstorms? The difference is would involve billions of dollars.

How long would this take? Superfund clean-ups take decades because the search for guilty polluters sets into motion years of litigation. In the canal zone, this process would be complicated because some of the canal’s pollution is more than a century old.

And finally, who will pick up the tab? Last week, we learned that municipalities are often holding the bag — which would put city taxpayers right where we started.

The Brooklyn Paper will keep fighting for these answers. But in the meantime, we would urge both sides in the debate to stop vilifying their opponents when this debate remains as murky as the canal itself.

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