Superfund

The productive industrial history of the Gowanus neighborhood left behind a legacy of industrial contamination in the Canal and on its banks. Today, there are two major forms of pollution in the Gowanus Canal: historic industrial pollution from former industrial and manufacturing activities lining the Canal and ongoing Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) from the three square mile sewershed. The primary legacy contaminant of concern is coal tar, a by-product from manufactured gas plants, but there are numerous other contaminants in the soil and sediment. 

In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was designated a Federal Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This spurred a $500 million clean-up process to dredge an average of 10 feet of contaminated sediment from the bottom of the canal, and cap the native sediment below. 

Shortly after Superfund designation, the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed and remains the largest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund Community Advisory Group in the nation. The CAG is made up of over 50 representatives from civic, environmental, business, and community organizations, including Gowanus Canal Conservancy, as well as individual members, from around the Gowanus Canal such as Red Hook, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope. The Gowanus Canal CAG meetings are held monthly and open to the public. For regular updates or to become a CAG member, visit the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) website

Please note that the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group will be conducting all meetings via Zoom conference for the foreseeable future. 

Superfund Updates: 

In October of 2018, the 4th Street Basin pilot study was completed to provide information necessary to complete the full-scale dredging and capping for the upper Canal, from Butler Street to 3rd Street. Results from the pilot were used to evaluate and finalize the design elements for the full Canal dredging and capping portion of the remediation, including:

  • Selection of equipment and optimizing logistics to conduct the work within the tight constraints of the Canal
  • Optimizing the processing and disposal of the dredged material
  • Optimizing methods for installing the multi-layered cap

According to EPA Remedial Project Manager, Christos Tsiamis, it is the first time in 150 years that a portion of the Canal has a clean bottom.

In January of 2020, the U.S. EPA issued an Executive Order requiring the start of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site cleanup. The order involves full-scale dredging and capping of the upper Canal, denominated as Remediation Target Area (RTA) 1, as well as restoration of the 1st Street turning basin. RTA 1 is the first of three areas of the Canal that are targeted for cleanup and the restoration of the contaminated filled-in former 1st Street turning basin will serve as the primary wetlands area for mitigating encroachment by the construction of bulkheads along the Canal. Bulkhead construction is currently underway and the start of dredging is currently scheduled for September 2020. For more information about what’s going on in the Canal right now and over the coming months, see recent presentations from EPA Remedial Project Manager Christos Tsiamis. 

Learn more:

Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG)

EPA Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

Cleanup of the Gowanus Canal