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Dredging Pilot at Gowanus Canal Superfund Site in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Begin

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Mary Mears (

(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that its dredging and capping pilot project will begin next week as part of its overall cleanup of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York, one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated bodies of water. Starting late next week, equipment will be brought in to support the dredging and removal of  approximately 22,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment in the Gowanus Canal’s Fourth Street Turning Basin (located at the intersection of 4th St. and 3rd Ave). The project includes installation of steel sheeting to support existing bulkheads during the pilot project. EPA will also monitor air and water during this project. Work is expected to continue through the spring of 2018. The dredging and capping pilot will inform the full scale dredging project. This work is being done in close cooperation with New York State.

“This dredging pilot project represents a huge and critical step toward the full scale cleanup of this badly contaminated canal,” said Catherine McCabe, Acting EPA Regional Administrator. “It took decades of discharges, sewage, and industrial pollutants to make the Gowanus Canal one of the nation's most seriously contaminated water bodies. It will take years to nurse it back to health but we are making steady progress.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals such as 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.

The EPA has divided the Gowanus Canal cleanup into three segments that correspond to the upper, middle and lower portions of the canal. The first segment, which runs from the top of the canal to the 3rd Street Bridge, and the second segment, which runs from 3rd Street to just south of the Hamilton Avenue bridge, contain the most heavily-contaminated sediment. In the third segment, which runs from the Hamilton Avenue Bridge to the mouth of the canal, the sediment is less contaminated than in the other segments.

For the first and second segments of the canal, the EPA plan requires dredging of approximately 307,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment. In addition, in areas of the deep sediment that are contaminated with liquid coal tar, which bubbles up toward the surface, the sediment will be stabilized by mixing it with cement or similar binding materials. The stabilized areas will then be covered with multiple layers of clean material, including an “active” layer made of a specific type of absorbent material that will remove PAH contamination that could well up from below, an “isolation” layer of sand and gravel that will ensure that the contaminants are not exposed, and an “armor” layer of heavier gravel and stone to prevent erosion of the underlying layers from boat traffic and currents. Finally, clean sand will be placed on top of the “armor” layer to restore the canal bottom as a habitat.

For the third segment of the canal, the EPA requires the dredging of approximately 280,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and capping of the area with active, isolation and armor layers and a layer of sand to help restore habitat. The plan also requires removing contaminated material placed in the 1st Street turning basin of the canal decades ago and restoring approximately 475 feet of the former basin. In addition, the EPA is requiring the excavation and restoration of the portion of the 5th Street turning basin beginning underneath the 3rd Street Bridge and extending approximately 25 feet to the east of the bridge.

To learn more about the EPA’s ongoing cleanup of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site, please visit:

The Superfund program is a cornerstone of the work that the EPA performs for citizens and communities across the country.  On July 25, 2017 Administrator Pruitt accepted recommendations from the task force established on May 22, 2017 to revitalize the Superfund program.  “My goal as Administrator is to restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission.”

The task force’s recommendations focused on five overarching goals: expediting cleanup and remediation, reinvigorating cleanup and reuse efforts by potentially responsible parties, encouraging private investment to facilitate cleanup and reuse, promoting redevelopment and community revitalization and engaging with partners and stakeholders. Work to prioritize and reinvigorate the program by the task force has been initiated and will be ongoing into the future. The Superfund Task Force Recommendations can be viewed at:

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