Gowanus: The Background

Published March 2, 2010 in The Brooklyn Ink

The Environmental Protection Agency now has the legal authority to go after The City of New York and eight other polluters who for decades contributed to contamination of the Gowanus Canal. The EPA was granted the power after labeling the 1.8-mile canal that divides Red Hook and South Brooklyn from Park Slope a federal Superfund site, a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

“The City of New York has owned or operated various facilities including an asphalt plant, coal plan, and incinerator,” said EPA spokesperson Elizabeth Totman. “We think that the coal runoff combined with metal and coal tar has impacted the ground water and migrated into the canal.”

The EPA also identified eight additional responsible polluting parties, but said the investigation is ongoing. Among the parties are Con-Edison, Chemtura Corporation, The U.S. Navy, National Grid, Beazer East Corporation, Rapid American Corporation, Brink’s Incorporated and Cibro Petroleum Products. The next step is negotiating an agreement with each party to investigate the extent of the contamination.

The canal was brought to the attention of the EPA after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter in December 2008 asking the federal agency to consider adding the Gowanus Canal to their Superfund list. The letter initiated preliminary sampling of the canal to test for contaminates.

“When we got that letter we took the proper steps to consider it and to figure out if the canal was contaminated enough,” Totman said. “We were out in the field in late January 2009 to do sampling for hazard ranking score to determine whether or not the potential pathways of exposure of a site are warranted. Gowanus canal scored above the threshold, which makes it warranted to do the Superfund site list.”

When asked about the EPA’s decision to add Gowanus to the Superfund list, the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which initiated the federal investigation, was mute on the issue. “For background we’re just not commenting on it right now,” said DEC spokesperson Lori Severino. “We are pleased that they are working on it and we’re not saying anything else.”

During their investigation the EPA found evidence of heavy metals, pesticides, and contaminates that occur in oil, coal and tar deposits present in the canal. In April of last year, the EPA proposed adding the canal as one of its’ 1,279 currently listed sites. After reviewing more than 1,300 comments from the community, businesses and officials, the agency decided the Superfund list was the best approach to cleaning up the contaminated canal.

The federal agency is already negotiating with National Grid, one of the responsible parties on an agreement. “They are responsible for three manufactured gas plants along the canal,” Totman said. Plants artificially produce gases like hydrogen, methane and ethylene by burning coal, wood or oil. “Those plants created contamination that is affecting the water in the canal. They have been extremely cooperative.”

Totman said the EPA hopes to have an agreement with National Grid by the end of the month. If agreed upon, it would force the company to install wells that run parallel to the canal to determine the source of the contaminated groundwater and if the contaminates are migrating from the property to the canal. “If we do find contaminated groundwater, the next determination would be how do we cut that off,” Totman said.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman in the mayor’s office, said the city was disappointed with the EPA’s decision. LaVorgna pointed to the history of Superfund which he said involves lengthy court battles that slow down the process of cleaning up a site.

“We had an approach that would get us to Superfund level cleanup faster by avoiding any potential major litigation,” LaVorgna said. “The stigma caused by a Superfund label can cause disinvestment and deter development. In either plan, the city is considered a potential party and responsible for paying some of the cost.”

The Borough Bridge Challenge

There are 24 bridges that separate the boroughs and I intend to run across all of them.

Manhattan & Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Bridge
The Manhattan Bridge
The Williamsburg Bridge

Queens & Manhattan

Queensboro Bridge
Roosevelt Island Bridge
Ward’s Island Bridge

Brooklyn & Queens

McGuinness Boulevard Bridge
Greenpoint Avenue Bridge
Kosciuszko Bridge

Bronx & Manhattan

Triborough Bridge
Willis Avenue Bridge
Third Avenue Bridge
Madison Avenue Bridge
138th Street Bridge
145th Street Bridge
Macombs Dam Bridge
High Bridge
High Bridge Aquaduct
Washington Bridge
University Heights Bridge
Broadway Bridge
Henry Hudson Bridge

New Jersey & Manhattan

George Washington Bridge

Staten Island & Brooklyn

Verrazano Bridge (no pedestrians)

Zen and the Insanity of Running

Yesterday I ran further than I can recall in recent memory. The last time I ran more than 20 miles was six years ago to the day when I finished the Motorola Marathon in Austin, Texas.

So I laced up my shoes and headed toward Central Park. I initially intended to run to a nearby borough – The Bronx or Queens, perhaps, but as I traversed the trees of the North Woods, I decided to detour south, cutting through to Columbus Circle.

” The Brooklyn Bridge,” I thought. “I’ll run across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

The cereal and granola bars in my stomach were getting tossed around with each step and I needed something to level the balance of food. A hot dog fit the bill perfectly. I dug two dollars out of my kangaroo pouch in my running tights in exchange for some red and yellow tube steak.

With zip in my step I started down Broadway again following the green path between traffic and the sidewalk. It was here that I noticed a bicyclist who was keeping pace with me quite well. We matched each other through Times Square but I lost him shortly after Herald Square. Oh well, I thought brushing him off.

I continued past the Flat Iron building, through Chinatown and finally reached a bridge. But to my dismay it was The Manhattan Bridge.

“Maybe I’ll just cross this one instead,” I thought. “No…I’m not quitting now.”

Finally I approached the Brooklyn Bridge as I weaved between photographers and tourists the massive cables ran overhead. The wooden planks that carry you across the East River provide a nice change from the hard concrete and asphalt of the city.

I am not familiar with most of Brooklyn so I knew that I would have to zen it. It’s a combination of a good sense of direction and wandering about aimlessly. I use this quite often.

I remember running down Flushing Avenue until I arrived at Metropolitan Avenue when I realized I was lost. A sign pointing east toward Long Island was a pretty good indication. I had intended to zen toward the northwest part of the island, when in fact I was running northeast. The good news about getting lost is that your ability to zen only improves. Continue reading “Zen and the Insanity of Running”