WEEKEND EDITION

Gowanus Floodwaters Nontoxic, Feds Say

| November 12, 2012 11:46 AM

The Gowanus Canal, which flowed into businesses on its banks during superstorm Sandy. Photo by Neil Alejandro

In the days after superstorm Sandy flooded the building that housed their film production company alongside Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, Kevin Howard and Steven Holtzman had plenty to contend with: Their business, Canal Creatures, lost thousands of dollars of equipment and supplies they had been accumulating for years.

But as much as anything, they worried about the brown goo that coated the floor of the downstairs offices. Like many residents and business owners, they admit that they’d underestimated what they would have to contend with when Sandy hit.

“I didn’t expect toxic sludge to be all over my life,” Holtzman said.

And it was not just the building, but the whole neighborhood that was coated with debris and sludge from the floodwater. Howard and Holtzman watched with alarm as scavengers picked up recyclables left from the deluge and a grocery sold supplies that had been stocked in its flooded storefront.

The water that poured in as Sandy struck flowed from what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed “one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies” and a designated Superfund site since 2010.

Over the weekend, the EPA released findings of samplings from two buildings adjoining the canal as well as from the canal itself. The testing concluded that “chemicals that were tested were below levels of concern or not detected.” What the canal did harbor were high levels of bacteria, likely a byproduct of sewage that ended up in the canal. A separate analysis has found levels 2,400 times higher than the EPA standard for recreational use.

The results offer relief to businesses and residents along the canal whose buildings were inundated with its murky waters and had spent two weeks without guidance on how to safely respond.

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