The sun reflecting off the waters of the Gowanus Canal highlights the shimmer of the oil that perpetually floats on top. There also are toxins in the smelly black muck on the canal's bottom.
It is all the result of Industrial waste and sewage that emptied into the canal for more than 100 years. Now, those pollutants are finally being dredged. They include lead, mercury, coal tar and arsenic.
"We look to remove 72,400 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the upper canal. It's a long time coming that's a proud day for all of us," says EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez.
It's taken this long for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get to this phase of the cleanup after it declared the 1.8-mile canal a Superfund site in 2010. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez secured initial funding to assess the pollution here, and has long fought for the cleanup. The studies showed the canal was so toxic, it qualified for Superfund status.
"We're investing and using the power of the federal government government to compel responsible parties that are responsible for this contamination to pay the bill”, says Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
That bill, which started at $650 million a decade ago, is now up to $1.5 billion. The city and a number of companies, including National Grid, have been held responsible for past discharges and must pay up.
Residents say the city has long neglected the area.
"The city of New York has consistently fought putting in the infrastructure improvements that they need to keep the canal and the superfund remedy safe”, says Carroll Gardens resident Linda LaViolette.
The EPA says the city must install sewage overflow tanks to prevent the ongoing problem of sewage seeping into the canal when in rains.
"They have an obligation as a responsible party and we're here to hold them to it”, says López.
The agency says it will soon set a schedule for the city to comply. As for the EPA timeline, the dredging on the upper canal is expected to last until 2023. It'll then move down to another section. Members of the project's community advisory group say they're OK with that outlook.
"While we know the cleanup will be, by necessity, proceeding for another decade, we're excited that cleaner, healthier Gowanus Canal is on the horizon”, says Community Advisory Group member Brad Vogel.
It’s a future that's expected to be crystal clear.