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Multiple Enforcement Actions Address Cleaning Up Contaminated Sediments at Gowanus Canal Site in New York

In fiscal year 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed work on 10 enforcement actions for cleanup work, valued at $175 million, at the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York to address the heavily contaminated sediments within the 100-foot wide, 1.8 mile long canal. Responsible parties will perform dredging and capping within the Gowanus Canal and upgrades to the canal bulkheads to support the dredging and capping. Cleanup work within the Canal could likely result in the continued redevelopment in the commercial and residential áreas adjacent to the Canal.

The major enforcement action for FY2020 is a $125 million unilateral administrative order (UAO), issued to six potentially responsible parties on January 28, 2020, to perform the dredging and capping in the upper area of the Canal. That dredging began on Monday, November 16, 2020 and is expected to take about 30 months. In addition, eight settlement agreements, valued at $50 million, also address cleanup work to support the dredging and capping work, and a ninth agreement is a $10 million payment for the Agency’s past cleanup costs.

“This order will ensure the remediation of a portion of the heavily-contaminated waterway, which is the centerpiece of a revitalized neighborhood. By addressing Superfund sites in densely populated urban areas such as the Gowanus Canal, EPA is protecting public health and the environment while supporting Brooklyn’s continued economic redevelopment.” EPA Regional Administrator (Region 2) Pete Lopez

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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 Brooklyn, New York. The Canal is bounded by several communities, including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The Canal empties into the 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.

More information about the site is available on the Agency’s Gowanus Canal Superfund site profile webpage.

Information on Pollutants and Environmental Effects

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, are present at high levels in the Gowanus Canal sediment. The cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund site includes dredging to remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Canal, which has accumulated because of industrial and combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges. Following dredging, construction of a multilayer cap in dredged areas will isolate and prevent migration of any remaining chemicals in the deep native sediments. Certain areas of the native sediment, below the original canal bottom, that contain mobile liquid tar and are too deep to excavate will be mixed with cement and solidified to prevent the migration of the tar into the water of the Canal. Controls to reduce CSO discharges and prevent other land-based sources of pollution, such as street runoff, from compromising the cleanup are also included in the cleanup plan.

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Overview of the Unilateral Administrative Order and Settlement Agreements

The following is an overview of the one  unilateral administrative order (UAO) and nine settlement agreements issued during fiscal year 2020, in chronological order:

  • December 23, 2019: Agreement with National Grid New York for the reimbursement of $10 million in past EPA response costs. The payments, in five installments, will ensure that oversight is fully funded during the dredging of the Gowanus Canal.
  • January 28, 2020: UAO, valued at $125 million, to six potentially responsible parties to perform the full-scale dredging and capping cleanup of the upper Canal. The order was issued to National Grid New York, the city of New York, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc., Hess Corp., Honeywell International Inc., and the Brooklyn Improvement Co.  The work includes restoration of the former 1st Street turning basin, which will serve as the primary wetlands area for mitigating or offsetting potential environmental impacts created by construction of deeper and more robust bulkheads along the Canal. Dredging is targeted for September 2020, contingent on completion of those bulkhead upgrades and is expected to take about 30 months to implement.
  • February 12, 2020: Agreement with 450 Union Street LLC and 450 Union Developer LLC regarding a bulkhead removal valued at $1.5 million
  • February 21, 2020: Agreement  with Gowanus Owner LLC regarding a bulkhead removal valued at $1.5 million
  • March 3, 2020: Amendment to the previous UAO valued at $500,000
  • April 4, 2020: Agreement with 420 Carroll LLC regarding a bulkhead removal valued at $1.5 million
  • June 15, 2020: Agreement amending a 2017 settlement agreement with Gemini Arts Initiative, Inc., a non-profit developer, to perform the final phase of a removal action needed to convert a former power station into a non-profit industrial arts center. The work, valued at $5 million, includes decontamination of PCBs within the building, and construction of a new bulkhead to support the Canal dredging work performed under the UAO.
  • June 23, 2020: Agreement amending a 2010 settlement with National Grid New York providing for a $10 million upgrade of the utility’s natural gas control station bulkhead, work needed to support a later Canal dredging phase.
  • July 24, 2020: Agreement valued at $10 million with SIP Holdings Venture LLC, a redevelopment entity, for the upgrade of its aging bulkhead to provide structural support for the dredging and capping work being performed under the UAO. The agreement will also support anticipated future commercial redevelopment work at the property.
  • September 18, 2020: Agreement amending a 2019 settlement requiring the construction of two bulkheads which are currently being designed to provide a portion of the structural support for the second phase of the dredging remedy. The value of this amendment settlement is $10 million.

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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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