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The Gowanus Canal

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pronunciation key: “go WAN us”. Think of Mrs Doyle offering Father Ted another sandwich. That’s the emphasis you’re after.

small hurricane mapLast night’s date began with a swift glass of sherry at Palo Cortado. (The sherry part is necessarily swift because the wine list is so extensive that it takes ages to make up one’s mind). A glass and some devilled eggs later, we made our way to the Brooklyn Brainery for a lecture on the history of the Gowanus Canal. Jealous much?

Joseph Alexiou, wearing a fetching pair of blue framed glasses, was incredibly passionate about his topic. What follows is what I can remember and in no way does justice to all the fascinating things he had to say.

The canal is, apparently 1.8 miles long (i.e. essentially pointless) and runs part way into Brooklyn. We live at the red dot, so it’s pretty close. The canal’s reputation is unsavory and it’s reek is the stuff of legend. (Head here and scroll down a little to read what Thomas Wolfe called “the huge symphonic stink” of the place).

gowanus-canal-featGowanus was (and to some extent, still is) a heavily industrial area and the canal was used to transport raw materials and goods. The canal also happens to be connected up to the sewage overflow system. As a result, every time it rains, a phenomenal amount of human excrement gets pumped into the canal and gets to mix with all the toxic sludge already in there from years of industry. Then, of course, with Hurricane Sandy, the storm surge desposited all manner of gifts to nearby residents. Yuk.

The canal is now a ‘superfund’ site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been carrying out tests on the canal and their preliminary report, for people who like that kind of stuff, is here. The clever thing about a superfund is that the EPA can take the companies responsible to court to raise the money for clean up of toxic sites like this one.

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