EPA finalizes NY Superfund site's $506M cleanup plan

EPA finalized the $506 million cleanup plan for Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal Superfund site, one of the nation's most contaminated waterbodies.

NEW YORK, NY, Sept. 30, 2013 -- Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, N.Y., one of the nation's most seriously contaminated bodies of water, had its $506 million cleanup plan finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The final plan, announced today on the banks of the canal by EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck with Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, state and local officials and community representatives, will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup. With community input, EPA has decided on the option in the proposed plan that will require the disposal of the least contaminated sediment at a facility out of the area rather than building a disposal facility in the water near Red Hook.

"More than 150 years of industrial waste, stormwater runoff and sewer overflows turned the Gowanus Canal into one of the most extensively contaminated water bodies in the nation, threatening people's health and the quality of their daily lives," said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. "The cleanup plan announced today by EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more."

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment, and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected of being cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects as well. To this day, people can still be found fishing in the Gowanus despite advisories about eating fish from the canal.

Completed in the mid-1800s, the Gowanus Canal was once a major industrial transportation route. Manufactured gas plants, tanneries and chemical and dye plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal. As a result of decades of discharges, stormwater runoff, sewage overflows from sewer systems that carry sanitary waste from homes, and rainwater from storm drains and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal was added to the Superfund list of the nation's most contaminated hazardous waste sites.

The final plan includes various methods for managing the contaminated sediment after dredging, depending on the levels of contamination. The methods include transporting the dredged sediment that is highly impacted by liquid coal tar away from the area to a facility where it will be thermally treated for the removal of the organic contaminants and then put to beneficial reuse such as a landfill cover, if possible. For the less contaminated sediment, treatment includes stabilization of the sediment at a facility out of the area, followed by beneficial reuse.

In addition, the final EPA plan requires controls to significantly reduce the flow of contaminated sewage solids from combined sewer overflows into its upper canal. These overflows are not being addressed by current New York City upgrades to the sewer system. Without these controls, contaminated sewage solid discharges would recontaminate the canal after its cleanup. The EPA is requiring that combined sewer overflow discharges from two major outfalls in the upper portion of the canal be outfitted with retention tanks to reduce the volume of contaminated sewage solid discharges. It is estimated that a reduction of 58 percent to 74 percent of these discharges will be needed to maintain the effectiveness of the cleanup.

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