NEW YORK (AP) -- The Superfund cleanup of one of the nation's most polluted waterways — New York City's Gowanus Canal — will begin in about three years with dredging of the sewage and chemical sludge, federal officials announced Monday.
The toxic waterway that was once a major industrial transportation route won't be safe for swimming or fishing but will be suitable for boating, officials said.
"More than 150 years of industrial waste, storm water runoff and sewer overflow turned the Gowanus Canal into one of the most extensively contaminated water bodies in the nation — an environmental disaster," Judith Enck, the Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said as she presented the agency's final cleanup plan while standing next to the Brooklyn canal.
"Today is a real turning point for the future of this urban water body," she said.
A 10-foot layer of reeking sediment will be removed from the bottom of the nearly 2-mile-long waterway, including coolant and lubricant residues that medical experts say can cause cancer. It will be transported to as yet undetermined locations to facilities licensed to dispose of such waste.
Enck noted that it could be 2020 before the cleanup is completed at a cost of an estimated half a billion dollars.
The Gowanus was built in 1848, quickly becoming one of the country's busiest industrial waterways, flanked by gas and coal companies, chemical and cement manufacturers, plus paint and ink factories, machine shops and tanneries — all discharging into the canal.
According to an EPA report, pollutants include polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs and metals including barium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and silver that contribute to "unacceptable ecological and human health risks."
The government says it will press to identify "numerous parties that are potentially responsible for the contamination" so they can contribute to cleanup costs.
In addition to the old industrial waste, the waterway is still being polluted by a combination of sewage and rainwater overflow from municipal drains that the city's treatment plants don't have the capacity to process. The cleanup includes plans to build two tanks to capture excess storm water and sewage.
In addition, the National Grid gas supplier is responsible for cleaning up several of its old plants in the area to prevent runoff into the canal.
The dredged areas are to be capped with layers of clay, sand, gravel and stone to prevent erosion from boat traffic and water currents.
It'll take about three years to set up the work after testing and analysis, while planning exact methods and equipment to tackle the dredging.
The canal was added to the congressional Superfund list of the nation's most contaminated hazardous waste sites in 2010.