Toxic avenger! Activist to swim Gowanus

Love it or hate it, here’s our look back at 2009
Riverkeeper Inc.

He’s going up s—’s creek!

A clean-water activist plans to take the ultimate plunge on Earth Day, swimming 1.8 miles through Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory — the Gowanus Canal.

Serial activist Christopher Swain will don a drysuit and traverse the canal from its “source” near Butler Street between Bond and Nevins streets to New York Harbor to call attention to the slow-moving federal cleanup of the canal and its surrounding neighborhood.

Swain announced today that he will hop into the Canal on April 22 covered from head to toe in protective gear to keep his skin, mouth, eyes, and ears free of the murky waters that famously hides victims of the mob, is covered with oil, laced with heavy metals, flooded with millions of gallons of raw sewage every year, and even has gonorrhea.

The Canal is also home to schools of Coney Island Whitefish as well as a 10-to-15-foot base of mercury-laden “black mayonnaise,” and despite the fact that things have gotten less smelly since a flushing tunnel began pumping oxygen-laden water into it back in 1999, the federal cleanup is still more than a decade from completion.

This stunt is not Swain’s first fishy swim. He brought attention to his aquatic cause by swimming the 315-mile length of the Hudson River.

But Swain wouldn’t be the first mammal to attempt a swim through the canal (something we are still trying to determine the legality of). Numerous dolphins have gone there to die, as did the famous whale Sludgie, who took his last breaths there, and whose bones are now part of an educational exhibit that, we hope, warns animals with hair of the dangers of swimming in such a polluted body of water.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro[email protected]cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Don't do it!: If dolphins could talk, they might warn Christopher Swain to stay on land and out of the Gowanus.
Photo by Paul Martinka