The Gowanus Canal is a 1.8-mile-long waterway connecting Upper New York Bay (the bay in between Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Staten Island) with the formerly industrial interior of Brooklyn. Originally it was fed by the marshland and freshwater springs in Brooklyn and drained into the Atlantic Ocean in Upper New York Bay;
Because of the way it was created, though, it has become stagnant and polluted by decades of runoff and dumping from local neighborhoods and businesses. In the summer, you can smell it from blocks away. It’s not a good smell. The post notes some pretty horrible things about the canal:
- The Gowanus is literally a sewer. First, small businesses along the canal are illegally dumping sewage and wastewater into it. There are also raw sewage tanks at the end of the canal, maintained by the city, that overflow right into the Gowanus.
- It should kill most marine life in it because the water doesn’t contain enough oxygen. Somehow even under these toxic conditions, bacterial life survives.
- The bubbles that float up from the lake come from decomposing sewage at the bottom.
- It’s a superfund site and the EPA has a plan to clean it up. The cleanup is expected to cost $US500 million, but will probably end up costing much more.
- Giant white clumps of bacteria — called biofilms — float near the bottom of the canal.
- We don’t really have any idea of the things that are growing in it. Even the EPA is clueless. There could be entirely new species growing in there.
- Things that we know are in there? Heavy metals including arsenic at 60 times the healthy exposure levels, carcinogens (that cause cancer), and congeners (a type of toxic chemical that come from factory runoff).
- The EPA also has no idea about the long-term effects on people who live near the canal, and no one is studying it. There is anecdotal examples that residents succumb early to cancer, Nosowitz writes. That’s just from breathing in fumes.
- The most disgusting thing? People canoe in it.
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