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Case Summary: EPA Finalizes Agreement with New York City on Design Elements of Gowanus Canal Cleanup

On June 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with the City of New York that secures the design elements for one of two retention tanks, which is a key component of the Gowanus Canal cleanup. The agreement also requires New York City to undertake activities to prepare that location for the tank installation and to pay EPA’s oversight costs.

The EPA issued its final cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund site on September 27, 2013. The cleanup includes dredging contaminated sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the canal as a result of industrial and sewer discharges. The dredged areas will be capped. The EPA’s cleanup plan also calls for the construction of two sewage and storm water retention tanks to significantly reduce CSO discharges from two key locations in the upper portion of the canal. These discharges are not being addressed by current New York City upgrades to the sewer system. Without these controls, CSO discharges would re-contaminate the canal after its cleanup.

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Information about the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

The Gowanus Canal is a 100-foot wide, 1.8-mile long canal in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, Kings County, NY. The Canal is bounded by several communities, including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The Canal empties into New York Harbor. The adjacent waterfront is primarily commercial and industrial, currently consisting of concrete plants, warehouses and parking lots.

The Gowanus Canal was built in the mid-1800s and was used as a major industrial transportation route. Manufactured gas plants (MGP), paper mills, tanneries and chemical plants operated along the Canal and discharged wastes into it. In addition, contamination flows into the Canal from overflows from sewer systems that carry sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains and industrial pollutants. As a result, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most seriously contaminated water bodies.

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Information on pollutants and environmental effects

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, are found at high levels in the sediment in the Canal.

Summary of the settlement agreement

The agreement secures the design of the larger of two combined sewage and storm water overflow retention tanks, which are key components of the Gowanus Canal cleanup, including both the tank’s size and location. It also requires New York City to undertake activities to prepare that location for the tank installation and to pay EPA’s oversight costs. Prior to finalizing the agreement with New York City, the EPA accepted comments from the public for 45 days and attended two Brooklyn community meetings to explain the proposal. A response to the public comments has been issued with the final order.

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Contact information

For more information, contact

Meredith Fishburn
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460

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