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EPA Begins Historic Full-Scale Dredging of Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

November 16, 2020 | Stephen McBay | Website

NEW YORK – Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, New York State Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, New York City Councilmember Brad Lander, members of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group and other dignitaries marked the start of dredging operations in the upper portion of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site in Brooklyn, New York, by the Carroll Street bridge. This is a major milestone in the history of one of the nation’s most contaminated waterways. It is anticipated that the dredging in this portion of the Canal will be completed in fall 2022, with capping to be completed in mid-2023.

“Today we mark the official start of a historic cleanup to address a legacy of hazardous waste and urban pollution that dates back to the 1800s,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “EPA’s partnership with local, state, and federal entities through constructive engagement and community engagement has been the hallmark of this successful collaboration. This achievement demonstrates the progress of the Superfund program and EPA’s commitment to protecting human health and the revitalization of the Gowanus and Red Hook communities.”

"We’ve come a long way to get where we are today. Full scale dredging is a welcome and long-awaited step toward full cleanup of the polluted Gowanus Canal,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. “Though this project is years from completion, we are on an ambitious timeline for cleanup of our first Superfund site in the City. I would like to extend my thanks to EPA and the community for their commitment to the health of our community. Together, we'll achieve a cleaner city for years to come."

"The Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group is deeply gratified that dredging of the upper portion of the canal is getting underway today,” said Founding Member Eric McClure. “The start of dredging comes just over 10 years from the date of the first meeting of the Community Advisory Group, and many founding CAG members are still actively providing EPA with community input. We’ve looked forward to this day for a long time, as it marks the beginning of the actual removal of contaminants from the canal, and while we know the complete cleanup will by necessity proceed for another decade, we’re excited that a cleaner, healthier Gowanus Canal is on the horizon. We thank the EPA for their steadfast commitment to a clean canal, and for their partnership in reaching this historic moment and in the work ahead. It’s truly a momentous day for Gowanus.”

“I am so excited to witness the start of this historic cleanup. Contamination of the Gowanus Canal has been a huge environmental issue in Brooklyn for over a century,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “I have been working with my constituents to advocate for a cleanup for over 30 years in spite of much resistance and many delays. We are one-step closer to a waterway free of poison and waste that can be reclaimed by the community.”

"I am proud to stand with the EPA and my colleagues as we welcome the beginning of dredging operations in the main channel of the Gowanus Canal. This day is a long time coming, and it wouldn’t have happened without the incredible leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the phenomenally dedicated and engaged Community Advisory Group, the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as New York City and State partners,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. “We have a long way to go, but today marks an important milestone in ensuring that this Superfund process will ensure a clean and healthy Gowanus Canal and uplands."

"I welcome the start of EPA's project to begin dredging the main Gowanus Canal channel as part of our badly needed and overdue Superfund cleanup efforts,” said Assemblyman Felix W Ortiz. “We've had to live with brownfields and unusable waterways resulting from years of neglect and improper management. I look forward to a better Brooklyn as a result of this new effort."

“Working toward a shared goal with our local, state, and federal partners, we are making the Gowanus community whole again by addressing its industrial legacy,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone in the cleanup of one of the nation’s most contaminated waterways.”

“With the start of full-scale dredging, the Gowanus Canal is turning the page on its polluted past. I’m excited to see us reach this step of the Superfund clean up process, which is critical to a healthy and sustainable future in Gowanus,” said New York City Councilmember Brad Lander. “Thank you to Regional Administrator Pete Lopez and the rest of the EPA regional staff for your work to ensure this process is done right, with the interests of the community, public health, and the environment front and center.”

The dredging and capping will take place in the upper canal – denominated as Remediation Target Area (RTA) 1 – which includes the 1st Street turning basin and a portion of the 5th Street turning basin. The dredging comes after years of detailed engineering, scientific studies, and design work. In preparation for the construction, a dock was installed at the end of Huntington Street and dredge and hopper barges started mobilizing to the Canal in October.

The Gowanus Canal Superfund Site: Excavator mounted on a platform barge. Photo Credit: EPA

Today officially marked the beginning of operations to dredge the main channel of the Gowanus Canal just south of the Carroll Street bridge. An excavator mounted on a platform barge will remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Canal. The dredged material will be loaded onto barges and transported down the Canal to the primary staging area at the end of Huntington Street, where it will be dewatered. The dewatered sediment will be transferred onto larger barges and transported to an off-site facility in New Jersey for further processing.

EPA, with the assistance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health, will oversee the work performed by a group of responsible parties. The work includes a community health and safety monitoring plan. Environmental and geotechnical monitoring equipment will be set up along RTA1 to monitor noise, vibration, movement, air quality, and water quality during construction.


More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and copper, are present at high levels in the Gowanus Canal sediments. 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 activity and combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges. Dredged sediment that contains high levels of liquid tar will be thermally treated at an off-site facility and disposed. The less contaminated dredged sediment will be processed at an off-site facility to transform it into a beneficial use product, such as landfill cover. 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. Following dredging and solidification of areas of the native sediment, construction of a multilayer cap in dredged areas will isolate and prevent migration of any remaining dissolved chemicals in the deep native sediments. 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.

The Gowanus Canal Superfund site is one of only three federal Superfund sites on the EPA’s National Priorities List in New York City. EPA finalized its plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in September 2013.

The current cost of the overall cleanup plan is estimated to be over $1.5 billion. The community response to EPA’s cleanup plan has been overwhelmingly supportive.

Learn more about the Gowanus Canal Superfund site here: www.epa.gov/superfund/gowanus-canal