NY Officials Try to Save Canal From Superfund List

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Superfund site designation can be a good thing for getting a contaminated area cleaned up in a regulated manner. But, it can take decades to carry out litigation over how much will be required to pay for cleanup and for how long it will take.

When the federal government, usually in the form of the EPA, gets involved in a Superfund site designation and cleanup, oftentimes a stigma is attached to the affected geographic region that can negatively impact future economic development.

Photo: NYC.gov

"This isn’t a 'trust us' scenario," Cas Holloway, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler and special adviser to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told The New York Times. "The goal is to have a Superfund-quality cleanup faster than the Superfund." Photo: NYC.gov

This is precisely what concerns New York state officials concerning the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

At the suggestion of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in April, the EPA proposed that the Gowanus Canal be designated a Superfund site, according to The New York Times.

The canal’s industrial past contributes to the litany of pollutants found in the waterway. Some of these pollutants include:

  • Pesticides
  • Metals
  • Cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (commonly known as PCBs)

The Bloomberg administration has presented its own plan for restoring and cleaning up the canal. Officials estimate the cleanup would take 9-10 years. The plan proposes:

  • Conducting a feasibility study that includes the 10 to 12 polluting companies and what can be done to clean up the canal
  • Allowing polluters to voluntarily pay for restoration and cleanup under binding agreements
  • Apply for separate federal funding that would reduce the city’s and the polluters’ final cleanup and restoration price tag

It remains to be seen if Brooklyn will avoid the Superfund site designation at the Gowanus Canal. However, if they are successful in their efforts to clean up the site without extensive federal intervention, New York City officials would present an example of an alternative to federal involvement in the restoration of industrial waste sites.

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  1. Haley,
    The Gowanus community embraces an EPA Superfund Cleanup.
    The mayor’s office isn’t saving us from the EPA, rather they are trying to spoil this opportunity to finally have the environmental problems of our area addressed in a comprehensive scientific manor.
    The mayor’s office is a political entity with little capacity to carry out the effort that needs to take place here. The track record that the city has in dealing with the Gowanus is evidence of how inept the city is in dealing with such a complex environmental problem. (They haven’t actually done a single thing to bring this water into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, despite decades of court orders trying to get the city to act responsibly here.)

    The Gowanus community looks forward to an EPA Superfund Cleanup that places Public Health and the Environment on the priority list. Those backing the mayor’s plans have stated over and over that the Gowanus is clean today to build massive new residential housing structures along. Under the mayor’s plans, the construction of new residential buildings will trump environmental concerns that might limit such construction in any way. The city can’t even deal with the volume sewage in the canal responsibly, how can we expect they will deal with the toxic elements in a responsible manor?

  2. Does having a stigma really matter? I understand the importance of avoiding the tag of ‘polluted area’ for economic reasons, but surely EPA intervention is a good thing if it ensures that the area gets cleaned up quickly? It seems that the mayor’s office has been dragging its feet for ages can the area really afford to wait any longer?

    PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals are serious chemical pollutants. They all have a way of leaching into new unexpected areas of the environment. The longer it takes to clean up the area the more contaminated extended regions of the local environment becomes. Action needs to be taken as soon as possible.

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