The Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that one of the garbage barges helping clear the federal Superfund site in Brooklyn’s infamous Gowanus Canal of toxic waste has itself sunk.
The first stage of the dredging effort—which began late last year at an expected cost of $125 million to dozens of polluters and will take until 2023—is intended to remove over 72,000 cubic yards of a disgusting sediment referred to as “black mayonnaise,” a combination of industrial waste, raw sewage, and storm-drain runoff that has accumulated in the canal since the 1800s. While the oil and gas plants, chemical manufacturers, coal yards, tanneries, and other heavy polluters that once spanned the 1.8-mile (3-kilometer) canal have largely dried up, the entire thing remains lined with overflow drains that spew sewage during storms and would require a titanic engineering effort to change. The EPA told the New York Times the horrifying mayonnaise gets its consistency from chemicals and sewage, while tar, decomposing plant matter, and…carcasses turn it black.
The EPA first designated the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site in 2009; contractors employed by the agency have already removed some of the biggest debris, but later phases were stalled by lengthy delays. The dredging effort employs excavators mounted on barges small enough to navigate the winding canal to scoop the goop out. News of the submerged ship, which was docked at Gowanus Bay after carrying a load of the awful stuff from the canal for transfer to a larger ship that would take it to New Jersey, comes via way of the Brooklyn Paper. The EPA told Earther in an emailed statement that contractor Cashman Dredging had informed the agency of the Gowanus gunk’s tremendous effort to return home on Monday.
“Cashman, a contractor for the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) for the Gowanus site in Brooklyn, NY, has mobilized pumps, booms, and silt curtains to the location and pumped water from the sunken barge into a separate, empty barge during periods of lower tide,” the EPA wrote. “Operations for stabilizing the barge will continue today. Dredging activities have been temporarily suspended so that crews can concentrate on operations to secure the barge.”
The EPA wrote that it is “actively investigating the incident to determine the cause, whether contaminated sediment was released into the water and to determine appropriate next steps,” adding that it will work quickly to remedy any potential “impacts.”
The New York Department of Health has approved the Gowanus Canal for boating (though there’s a prohibition in effect for the duration of the Superfund effort) but not fishing or swimming. In 2007, a 15-foot-long (4.6-meter-long) young minke whale swam into Gowanus Bay, and she was nicknamed “Sludgie.” She died less than 24 hours after her dip in the toxic waters, though subsequent research confirmed that Sludgie perished because of separation from her mother and malnutrition rather than the sludge. But her death lent energy to local conservation efforts to clean up the site. It’s certainly more than what happened after a two-ton, 18-foot (5.5-meter) sperm whale swam into the canal in 1928 and was strangled to death with metal cables by unemployed steelworkers.
Gizmodo and Earther staff weighed the following headlines for this story:
Pollution Wins Pollution War
Toxic Waste So Nice It Sank Twice
Garbage Barge Once Again Just Garbage
You Can Barge Garbage Out of the Gowanus… Oh Wait
Garbage Barge’s Garbage Barges Back Down to Garbage Town
Garbage In, Garbage Out (Nope It’s Back In)
I’m Here, I’m Flooded With Black Mayonnaise, Get Used to It
World’s Worst Sunken Treasure Revealed (Do Not Actually Dive in to Retrieve It, You May Get Very Sick)
Garbage Walks the Plank, Takes Plank With It