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The Horrific Gowanus.
September 27, 2010 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Video of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, a newly minted Superfund site in all its horrific glory. SLYT (via Brownstoner
posted by R. Mutt (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Gow"anus"? Via "Brown"stoner? Seriously?

Also, ewww.
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on September 27, 2010


Ahhhh, my old stomping grounds. Lived two blocks from it. I've kayaked on that thing. It's not quite as scary from a visual stand point as you'd think. But every time I got a little splash on me, I'd shudder.
posted by spicynuts at 11:36 AM on September 27, 2010


Do people who could live elsewhere but choose to live adjacent to a superfund site do so after doing some cost/benefit analysis where they decide that the detriments to their health are worth it because of some benefit? I don't get it.
posted by The World Famous at 11:47 AM on September 27, 2010


As Divine Wino once said: "The only body of water that is 80% guns."
posted by sciurus at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Those people are holding their noses. It must stink!....

...

We should go down there and smell it!"

*retch*
posted by carsonb at 11:53 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously
posted by Big_B at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2010


Also, clear something up for me (heh), is the green the usual color of the canal and it's being overrun by brown flooding from the rain, or vice-versa?
posted by carsonb at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2010


So can we now say without incredulity that the Gowanus is a shit hole?
posted by wcfields at 11:57 AM on September 27, 2010


Combined Sewer Overflow. This is more common than you'd think. Portland Maine's CSO dumps raw sewage in Casco Bay if it rains too hard. They've been working on it since 1991.
posted by rusty at 11:58 AM on September 27, 2010


Toronto spent several million dollars building what are essentially huge holes (well, tanks) in the ground near the lake to prevent this kind of sewer overflow from happening. It happens anywhere where storm sewers can overflow into sanitary sewers.
posted by GuyZero at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that this raw sewage event is not why Gowanus Canal is NPL listed. Instead PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics (IE: industrial chemicals from the last 150 years) dumped in the canal since it's opening in 1869 is the reason it is a super fund site.

The World Famous writes "Do people who could live elsewhere but choose to live adjacent to a superfund site do so after doing some cost/benefit analysis where they decide that the detriments to their health are worth it because of some benefit? I don't get it."

The Hudson river is a Superfund site. Large swaths of the population base of the US is within neighbourhood distance of superfund sites, especially on the East Coast where early industry was essentially unregulated. Probably the risks are so normalized that people don't really think about it.
posted by Mitheral at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Large swaths of the population base of the US is within neighbourhood distance of superfund sites, especially on the East Coast where early industry was essentially unregulated. Probably the risks are so normalized that people don't really think about it.

I know, and it weirds me out. Whenever I move, I always check the locations of any nearby superfund sites and the composition of the waste that they contain, and I choose my home accordingly. I can understand that a lot of people don't have much choice. But for those who do have a choice to decide that the benefits outweigh the risks is just baffling.
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 PM on September 27, 2010


Look, the thing doesn't smell. I lived there for 8 years. Not once did I ever say 'oh god the canal stinks today.' I walked over it twice daily. One night I was crossing over it and I saw a Night Heron perched on a log beneath the bridge eating a fish. I stood there and watched for 20 minutes. It was a beautiful night. Smelled like fall.

Now, I live in Greenpoint. Often it smells like a burning tire. So, I'll take the Superfund site that doesn't smell, please.
posted by spicynuts at 12:08 PM on September 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Lots of things that will take several years off your life don't smell.
posted by The World Famous at 12:09 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


rusty: "Combined Sewer Overflow. This is more common than you'd think. Portland Maine's CSO dumps raw sewage in Casco Bay if it rains too hard. They've been working on it since 1991."

So does Pittsburgh's. When it rains hard, it dumps sewage right into the head of the Ohio which eventually empties into the Mississippi. The consent decree with the EPA says that they have to have it fixed by the year 2026.
posted by octothorpe at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2010


Funny, this weekend my recorded two songs on the banks of the Gowanus: Superfund sites need music too! (self-link). The water was the usual 70s institutional green color that day. We saw ducks and little schools of fish fry, which made me think of this interesting article about how urban environments are often more diverse and "successful" than you would think. We also saw several floating diapers, oil cans and a sex-worker transaction in a SUV right next to the canal. It's grimy as hell, no question, but I find that polluted waterways always have a certain wounded beauty.
posted by otolith at 12:38 PM on September 27, 2010


oops, "my band", that is...
posted by otolith at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2010



Lots of things that will take several years off your life don't smell.


Yeah, well I also grew up on the Hudson...and swam in it...so I figure I'm just keeping my system in balance.
posted by spicynuts at 12:57 PM on September 27, 2010


Cloverfield 2: Cloverfilth
posted by WPW at 1:18 PM on September 27, 2010


Yes, but does it still have the clap?
posted by elizardbits at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2010


I walked over it twice daily.

I believe it. It looks like you could just step across the surface, as long as you were careful not to slip and fall on a rubber.
posted by pracowity at 1:30 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I've been swimming in raw sewage. I love it. I looooove it."
posted by Eideteker at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2010


I've been to Gowanus a few times, never noticed a smell.

I was there cause it was the HQ of the Madagascar Institute and I was 17 and it was the kind of place a guy named Rachet might accidentally blow his face off with a piston.
posted by The Whelk at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2010


of course it's on youtube
posted by Eideteker at 1:32 PM on September 27, 2010


Just so y'all know, they're building a Whole Foods on the Gowanus Canal between 3rd and 4th st.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:56 PM on September 27, 2010


That Whole Foods is never going to happen.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:58 PM on September 27, 2010


I was there cause it was the HQ of the Madagascar Institute and I was 17 and it was the kind of place a guy named Rachet might accidentally blow his face off with a piston.

And it still is, Whelk. It still is.
posted by phooky at 2:17 PM on September 27, 2010


So, I'll take the Superfund site that doesn't smell, please.
posted by spicynuts at 3:08 PM on September 27 [3 favorites -] Favorite added! [!] Other [2/3]: «≡»


yeah me too. I live in a rural county of 1200 square miles and a total population of under 50,000 and four days out of seven all I can smell is my neighbors (in the all-over-the-county sense of neighbors) burning their garbage because .50/bag at the landfill is just too much to pay.

don't talk to me about the fresh air of the country. I'm moving back to the polluted metropolis where you can stand to have your windows open.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:26 PM on September 27, 2010


Combined Sewer Overflow. This is more common than you'd think.

Chicago has a combined system that dumps into Lake Michigan. Chicago's been working to fix this for over 30 years, built 109 miles of tunnels, and spent an ungodly amount of money in the process. Parts of the system are just coming online.

DC has a similar system that dumps into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. In addition to the sewage grossness, there's a particular problem with trash being washed down the storm drains and into the rivers (things are much worse on the Anacostia side -- the Potomac is cleaner). The city's attempting to mitigate this by charging a $0.05 tax on plastic grocery bags, with similar legislation proposed for styrofoam cups. Like Chicago, there are plans to (mostly) fix all this.
posted by schmod at 2:34 PM on September 27, 2010


Ok, seriously, do you guys not understand what designation as a superfund site actually means? It doesn't mean it's a stinky spot that's unpleasant. It means it's one of the most toxic polluted sites in the United States and has been designated for cleanup under CERCLA.

From the EPA's own description of the site:

As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics.

I've lived in some pretty stinky rural areas, and I'll gladly take them over living adjacent to one of the nation's most extenively contaminated water bodies that is full of PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals, and volatile organics.

But I guess I'm starting to understand how someone could do a cost/benefit analysis and decide it's worth it to live next to a superfund site. It appears that such an anslysis includes either a lack of understanding of what the costs are or a concious decision to favor exposure to highly toxic material, including carcinogens, in order to avoid the bad smells that are present in some places that don't have superfund sites.
posted by The World Famous at 2:39 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gowanus itself is a pretty marginal(ized) neighborhood, but five blocks from the canal in either direction is yuppie city. (I say that with affection, as I used to live there -- and before that, in the "smells like a burning tire" neighborhood of Greenpoint, which has a very fascinating underground oil spill to its name.) Quite a lot of Brooklyn is basically a toxic waste dump, but it's not like the drinking water comes out of the Gowanus. It's a perfectly reasonable place to live. Just don't eat the dirt or swim in the canal.
posted by zvs at 2:44 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've lived in some pretty stinky rural areas, and I'll gladly take them over living adjacent to one of the nation's most extenively contaminated water bodies that is full of PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals, and volatile organics.

But I guess I'm starting to understand how someone could do a cost/benefit analysis and decide it's worth it to live next to a superfund site. It appears that such an anslysis includes either a lack of understanding of what the costs are or a concious decision to favor exposure to highly toxic material, including carcinogens, in order to avoid the bad smells that are present in some places that don't have superfund sites.
posted by The World Famous at 5:39 PM on September 27 [+] [!] Other [4/4]: «≡·


Sure, but those stinky rural areas aren't just superficially stinky for no reason. They stink because there are ludicrous quantities of livestock confined in too small an area, which pollutes groundwater (biological contaminants). They're stinky because the small cities and counties can't be bothered to enforce state laws against unfiltered burning of all categories of waste (pcbs, heavy metals, hydrocarbons). They're stinky because nobody's enforcing septic tank/drainfield inspection/compliance laws, which also fouls the groundwater. Rural small towns that have municipal water and sewer districts collect their solid/liquid waste and spray it on leased fields where the farmers (while collecting the rents for the blackwater spraying) then grow fodder for their cattle - lots of stank *and* toxic heavy metals in this process too.

When calculating your cost/benefit analysis for living in an urban area near a Superfund site, I'm sure lots of people add in their reasonable belief that at least in an urban area they'll be drinking pretty much the same water as the rest of the city, so it will probably be pretty clean. The higher population and cost of living in urban areas usually means the quality of public services and adherence to laws will generally be better than in rural areas.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2010


You're aware that there are also lots of places that have neither stinky livestock nor superfund sites, right? And that there are places, even in big cities, that are not right on top of or right next to a superfund site?
posted by The World Famous at 2:58 PM on September 27, 2010


You're aware that there are also lots of places that have neither stinky livestock nor superfund sites, right? And that there are places, even in big cities, that are not right on top of or right next to a superfund site?
posted by The World Famous at 5:58 PM on September 27 [+] [!] Other [5/5]: «≡·


sure I am. I was just responding to your specific "I'll take this over that" comparison.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:59 PM on September 27, 2010


The higher population and cost of living in urban areas usually means the quality of public services and adherence to laws will generally be better than in rural areas.

Really? What are you basing that assertion on?
posted by The World Famous at 4:12 PM on September 27, 2010


my own admittedly anecdatal sample of having personally and personally-one-removed lived in more than fifty urban and rural locations and finding that (my assertion) to be generally borne out in each of those places. In any city you've ever lived in, have you ever seen (just for example) a mountain of horse manure the size of a three story building (which is not legally supposed to exist) catch fire and burn for weeks because it's too large to turn and too hot to do anything else?

What I'm getting at here is that cities (that are not detroit) have larger tax bases than rural areas for things like code enforcement, public utility infrastructure maintenance, environmental quality investigations and whatnot, plus a larger ratio of people who want to drink clean water and not walk through waist-deep sewage compared to the actual perpetrators of waist-deep sewage. I'm talking about the U.S., by the way, because I don't know about any other countries.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:03 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


In any city you've ever lived in, have you ever seen (just for example) a mountain of horse manure the size of a three story building (which is not legally supposed to exist) catch fire and burn for weeks because it's too large to turn and too hot to do anything else?

I've seen similar things happen with mountains of tires. And I've seen a lot of cars on fire. I really think you're underestimating the amount of nasty illegal stuff that goes on in cities. And I'm not even talking exclusively about Detroit (which is where I'm from, so watch yourself talking about it like what you see on TV is the whole place).

I mean, have you seen the L.A. river, for example? Infrastructure maintenance and environmental quality compliance in cities - particular the bigger U.S. cities like L.A. and NYC - is terrible. Have you been to DC and driven out past the tourist spots? I don't know how anyone can spend any significant amount of time in Southeast DC and conclude that the higher population and cost of living means that the quality of public services and adherence to laws is better than in rural areas. Honestly, if you interpret your personal sample of fifty urban and rural locations and reach the conclusion that the high cost of living and population in cities leads to higher adherence to laws generally, I don't know how to reason with you.
posted by The World Famous at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2010


... have you ever seen (just for example) a mountain of horse manure the size of a three story building (which is not legally supposed to exist) catch fire and burn for weeks

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:10 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think someone is taking my 'i'll take the superfund site that doesn't smell' a little too seriously. I'm trying to add a bit of humor to a difficulty situation. Also, just because something is a Superfund site doesn't mean that all Superfund sites are the same and anything within a 50 mile radius is Chernobyl. The vast majority of the Gowanus' problems are buried in the mud.
posted by spicynuts at 6:56 AM on September 28, 2010


Lived near the Gowanus, now I live by Newtown Creek (also recently made a Superfund site, for similar reasons). Great places to live; lovely neighborhoods, and the canals themselves are scenic and not particularly smelly. I do worry about carcinogens... but getting hit by a car while biking to work is a much bigger danger.
posted by Erroneous at 7:08 AM on September 28, 2010


So yeah, the Gowanus is a mess. This thread pretty much has that covered. As for the CSO thing: it's crazy expensive, complicated, and disruptive to separate old combined sewer systems, which is why you get consent decrees with compliance deadlines multiple decades out. Communities don't want their sewage pouring into their rivers, lakes, and oceans but no one wants to pay for it or drive around it while the streets are all torn up either.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:22 AM on September 28, 2010


I really think you're underestimating the amount of nasty illegal stuff that goes on in cities.

No, I'm just telling you that when it happens in cities, there's a good chance of a concerned observer stumbling onto it and reporting it. Whereas in the sticks, you could have a pile of tires the size of the Chrysler building and nobody would know, because 1) nobody would find it (unless it happened to be near a marijuana farm) and 2) if somebody did find it, the number of people who are paid to care or do something about it (who *would* do something about it) is vanishingly small. As a journalist, I talk with a lot of the aforementioned people. Some of them would try to do something, but many of them would just shrug.

I don't know how anyone can spend any significant amount of time in Southeast DC and conclude that the higher population and cost of living means that the quality of public services and adherence to laws is better than in rural areas.

Because in Southeast DC, no matter how poor you are, legal aid will at least send a nasty letter to your landlord, and the city or county might want to know about that oil/gas leak, chemical spill or lead paint problem you're having, if not for your sake, then because it might affect someone they *do* care about. Whereas in deep rural areas, you are on your own in a way most people have never contemplated.

I don't know how to reason with you.

Also, don't be condescending. we're just talking.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2010


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