On Tuesday evening, May 31 at the PS 58 auditorium, the community was addressed by EPA Project Manager, Christos Tsiamis and our Community Coordinator, Natalie Loney. Christos spoke about the next phase of the Superfund cleanup of the canal, the Feasibility Study. This phase begins after the Remedial Investigation is completed and presented as was done back in February of this year.Then, the EPA takes those findings and begins to explore possible avenues of remediation. Chistos spent the time conversing with the community about some of those possibilities and informed us that the actual Feasibility Study Report will probably be issued at the end of 2011. (See PMFA blog for more details).
In a relaxed, informal style, encouraging questions from the audience, and remarkably, calling on most of us by name, Christos began by informing us of the EPA's meetings with PRP National Grid, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. He repeatedly reminded the audience of the size, scope and difficulty with cleaning our little Canal--and that this task will require the cooperation of all of those agencies, as well as the ideas of some of our local organizations. Christos pointed out the Gowanus Canal Conservancy's recent grant through Rep Nydia Velasquez for the Sponge Park as an example of something worth watching-- one small innovative measure that could possibly make a dent in some of the problems we face.
He went on to explain that the EPA's task is to reduce and/or eliminate the risks to Public Health and the environment as revealed by the Remedial Investigation. There are three means by which to do this:Treatment, Containment and Disposal.
As a Chemical Engineer, Christos explained that he would love to chemically alter the carcinogenic compounds (a "treatment" method) in the canal deposited chiefly by the remnants of the old gassification sites--into neutralized harmless nothingness---but, the levels of contamination are too severe for that type of treatment to be successful, although thermal (heat) treatment would be good for the organic compounds, which also contribute to the problem. So, it looks like containment, using various methods of capping--appropriately designed for each different segment of the canal, (our Project Manager assures us he will be looking to use the newest and best in technologically advanced methods and capping products) and the legal and safe disposal of the nastiest of the muck will be the way to go.
One of the major concerns in the canal cleanup is the probability of recontamination of the canal post cleanup---apparently a common occurence at most superfund (waterway) sites. The Gowanus is plagued by not only the "tar" remnants left by the manufactured gas plant sites which bubble up, but by the CSO's which allow the raw sewage to pour into the canal, the solids from the CSO'S which themselves absorb the other toxins in the water and then sit at the bottom in the sediment, the storm water runoff which picks up all means of contaminants as it makes its way to the canal and the ten to twelve (10-12) existing sites which are still oozing contaminants into the canal. There is also some groundwater contamination but that apparently is fairly low level since it has been significantly dissolved by the time it reaches the canal.
Community members expressed concern about the Public Place, Whole Foods and Lowe's sites---especially when it was pointed out that both the Lowe's site as well as what was to be the Toll Brothers site were both more contaminated than originally thought---and that the cleanup measures used at Lowe's and the proposed cleanup measure for the now defunct Toll Brothers site, were just not adequate in the opinion of the EPA.
Neighborhood residents expressed their concerns about the measures to be taken at the Public Place site to not only insure the safety of the residents who will eventually live on that site, but if the proposed measures to be taken to prevent the recontamination of the canal by the toxins in the Public Place uplands will actually cause those toxins to be diverted towards the current residents homes. The "uplands" fall under the jurisdiction of New York State, not the EPA. Christos expressed his opinion, that so far, the proposed Public Place site measures seem inadequate.
This of course, led to a discussion and the expression of the concerns of the residents who now rightfully have diminished faith in the city and state agencies that apparently either approved or were ready to green light projects that were just not up to par---- How can we as residents now feel comfortable knowing that these same agencies are in charge of projects as significant to our health as the Public Place site?
This cleanup is clearly a Herculean task---one that will require not only the best that science and technology have to offer, and the determination of the horde of engineers and laborers that will be used by the EPA for their portion of the job--but our determination and involvement as a community as well.
CORD has always expressed our belief that a comprehensive cleanup is the only way to go. A clean up that costs half a billion dollars and only solves one portion of the problem does not make sense. This is an historic opportunity to do something extraordinary--Our community must stand together and demand that this cleanup be the best there is--not one that is just good enough.
Listening to the EPA Project Manager, we hear a voice that cares very deeply about giving us the best. But, we also hear that the EPA cannot do it alone---that we need to remain engaged and active. We must not ever settle.
We must insist that our health and the health of our environment remain the number one priority. How fast this can be done may be a concern to some--how expensive and difficult a reality.......but how thorough and how effective a healthy, permanent result is achieved is important to everyone in our community--with no exception---and in this case, cost is no reason to settle for less.
We are only learning now of the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars this city has spent on consultants for projects that either don't work or go nowhere---it seems to us that the EPA is perfectly capable and willing to lend its expertise to the city and state of New York in a manner that will benefit not only the residents of our community today but well into the future---They are here right now and it is just plain foolish to squander this opportunity.
As always, we encourage you to write to us with your questions and/or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will bring those directly to the EPA for answers. Please try to come to CAG meetings. There is a general meeting held once a month. The next one will be June 28th--location to be announced. There are regular committee meetings which are open to the public. The next three are on June 6 (water quality) June 7 (real estate) and June 9 (administrative). June 6ht and 7th will be held at the Fifth Ave Committee 621 Degraw St and June 9th at the CB6 Conference Room, 250 Baltic St. Each meeting begins at 6:30 PM. If you cannot attend, you can still keep up with our blog and/or newsletter and please encourage your friends and neighbors to sign up to our newsletter as well.