Gowanus: Threatened by Pollution

By Adrien Hobbs

Transformed from a creek in 1869, Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal helped to spark the growth of the surrounding industrial area. Warehouses, cement plants, paint factories, chemical plants, coal stores, manufactured gas refineries and many more industrial businesses sprang up as a result of its construction.

The availability of industrial jobs in the area attracted large numbers of people to an area that was not ready to accommodate them.  Improper waste-water sanitation from the large local population eventually led to raw sewage draining directly into the canal and sewage was not the only contaminant.

Industrial pollutants including cement, coal tar, PCBs, oil, mercury and lead began to destroy the once self-sustaining ecosystem.

From the turn of the century until 1955, the canal was frequently dredged, but this ended when many industrial practices in the area became obsolete. As businesses faded, maintenance of the canal was no longer a priority, leading to the conditions of today’s Gowanus Canal.

Today, the canal’s overwhelming stench of sewage can deter a visitor. For those determined to walk near its waters, the level of visible pollution is strikingly apparent.

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