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Gowanus Canal

Gowanus Canal


The Gowanus Canal was placed on the CERCLA National Priorities List (NPL) in March 2010. CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund, is a federal statute aimed at cleaning up sites that are contaminated with hazardous substances. CERCLA is a “strict liability” statute, meaning that parties that own contaminated sites or contributed to contamination can be held liable regardless of whether they violated any laws. To date, EPA has identified approximately 25 potentially responsible parties (PRPs) in connection with the site, including the City and National Grid, and additional PRPs will likely be identified.

Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study

EPA (with some specific tasks performed by the City and National Grid), performed a Remedial Investigation (RI) to characterize the nature and extent of contamination in the Canal, determine the human health and ecological risks from exposure to contamination in the Canal, identify the sources of contamination to the Canal, and determine the physical and chemical characteristics of the Canal that will influence the development, evaluation, and selection of cleanup alternatives. This work included a bathymetric study, sediment, groundwater, surface water, air, fish tissue sampling, and an investigation of hundreds of pipes that lead to the Canal. Sampling has shown that the Canal is contaminated with a variety of pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, and metals.

In December 2011, EPA released its draft Feasibility Study (FS), which evaluated a number of alternatives for reducing or eliminating unacceptable risks to human health and the environment from exposure to contaminated sediment and surface water in the Canal. The City commented on the RI and FS in a number of submittals, which can be accessed through the following links:

In December 2012, EPA issued its Proposed Plan for the Canal as well as an addendum to the FS. As part of the Superfund remedy, the EPA proposed certain CSO reduction targets for two outfalls, and proposed a preliminary conceptual plan for how the City can attain these targets. EPA’s conceptual plan consisted of two detention tanks—one to be located beneath a public park and swimming pool located on Douglas Street between Nevins Street and 3rd Avenue, and the other to be located on City property located at the end of Second Avenue. EPA’s estimated cost for the tanks was $77 million. DEP submitted comments on the Proposed Plan on April 26, 2013. The City comments can be found below.

In September 2013, EPA issued its Record of Decision (ROD) setting forth its final cleanup plan for the Canal. The ROD in large part adopted the remedy set forth in the Proposed Plan. DEP has significant concerns regarding the data underlying EPA’s chosen remedy, and the feasibility of constructing two large wastewater detention tanks in a densely populated area. In addition, based upon its experience, DEP believes that the cost of the tanks would be five to ten times higher than EPA has estimated.

In March 2014, EPA issued a unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) for Remedial Design to National Grid and 29 other parties to design the portion of the chosen cleanup remedy relating to the dredging and capping of Canal sediments. In May 2014, EPA issued a UAO to the City relating to the CSO portion of the remedy. The UAO also requires the City to design the remedy for the 1st Street turning basin, and to make a good-faith effort to “cooperate and participate” in the design of the in-Canal portion of the remedy with the 30 other parties. As stated in the June 23, 2014 response letter below, the City intends to comply with the order to the best of its ability.


On June 23, 2014, the City responded to the UAO issued by EPA.

In April 2013 the City of New York submitted the following comments on EPA’s Proposed Plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site.

On May 25, 2011, the City of New York submitted comments on the EPA's Draft Remedial Investigation (RI) of the Gowanus Canal. The City recommended that EPA perform additional technical analysis necessary to ensure that the remedy will be feasible, cost-effective, and successful over the long-term. The City's main comments include: (1) recommendations concerning additional characterization of potential contamination present on the upland sites that could be current or future sources of contamination to the Canal; (2) recommendations concerning a re-assessment of the relative significance of contamination associated with CSO discharges relative to other sources such as groundwater and overland runoff; (3) recognition of the benefits of CSO reductions from the DEP's ongoing upgrades to relevant infrastructure; (4) a critique of the Draft RI's risk assessments; and (5) recommendations concerning the development of a computer model for contaminant fate and transport.

The City gave a presentation to EPA Region 2 on the Remedial Investigation with detailed information on levels of contaminants of concern in CSO discharges.

The City gave a presentation to EPA Region 2 on the Feasibility Study with detailed analysis of CSO discharges related to requirements stated in the Study.

The City presented an extensive detailed analysis of the CSO data and the analyses normally conducted in an FS to determine whether remedial action is required under Superfund. These analyses are presented in detail in this letter from NYCDEP to the EPA Region 2.

The following presentation was given before EPA’s Contaminated Sediment Technical Advisory Group (CSTAG) on November 10, 2011. It contains analyses of the CSO data presented in the Draft Remedial Investigation and comparison of the chemical concentrations in CSO sediments to background concentrations and risk-based cleanup values, or PRGs. PRGs are calculated in the Superfund process to determine concentrations for chemicals that are safe for human health and the environment. The results of the City’s analysis indicate that chemical concentrations in CSO sediments are less than risk-based values and equal to background concentrations measured in areas outside of the Canal. This presentation also includes a discussion of the Conceptual Site Model for the Canal which indicates that groundwater is a larger source of chemicals into the Canal than are CSOs. Additional data are presented which indicate that CSO solids contribute a small percentage of total solids that are depositing in the Canal. This presentation also presents information on the on-going capital improvements to the Gowanus watershed and the improved water quality that these projects will provide to the community.

The City presented an extensive detailed analysis of the CSO data and the analyses normally conducted in an FS to determine whether remedial action is required under Superfund. These analyses are presented in detail in this letter from NYCDEP to the EPA Region 2.

On January 30, 2012 CSTAG gave recommendations for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site.

On September 27, 2011 NYCDEP Commissioner Carter Strickland presented information to the Community Advisory Group (CAG) which focused on the improvements that are underway to the Gowanus Pumping station and the Flushing tunnel under the Clean Water Act. This presentation details those improvements to water quality in the Canal.

EPA Region 2 has published the Draft Remedial Investigation and Draft Feasibility Study for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site.

The City of New York has conducted extensive technical analyses of the data presented in both of these EPA documents in an effort to better understand the potential for CSOs to contribute chemicals of concern for human health or the environment to the Canal. These analyses have been presented to EPA Region 2 and to CSTAG

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