Dredging Starts on the Gowanus Canal, One of America’s Dirtiest Waterways

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Environment, Faith, Franciscan, Gowanus Canal, Laudato Si, Queens, NY

By Emily Drooby

The Gowanus Canal might look clear from the surface, but it has become known for its high levels of toxins and a pungent, garbage-like smell. It’s also known for what Brooklyn locals call “black mayonnaise,” which is thick sludge created by decades of industrial waste and sewage.

The canal is so dirty that it became a “superfund site” in 2010, a contaminated area that can be cleaned up under federal law.

That’s what’s happening now — the dredging marks the start of the Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited action.

It’s a welcome sight for Father Orlando Ruiz, the pastor of Our Lady of Peace, a church just blocks from the canal.

“As Franciscans we are called to always be attentive, to be respectful, to be grateful to God’s gift to us,” explained Father Orlando.

He’s a Franciscan Friar and as one, environmental advocacy has long been crucial for him and his parish community. About five years ago, they started to bless the river yearly.

Bringing Holy Water to the waters poisoned by sins against nature, they saw a difference.

Now they’ll see even more of one as the EPA works to remove dangerous pollutants from the canal like lead, mercury, coal tar and even arsenic.

Locals expect all kinds of other things to come up too.

“As my parishioners would say, there’s not only tires, and wheels from cars or bicycles, there’s other things. The legends and stories of our neighborhood for the Italian population, they used to say that maybe the Gambino family used to throw their guns in there,” explained Father Orlando.

During the dredging project, 72,400 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed.

The price tag is steep: 1.5 billion dollars. Father Orlando says it’s worth it, because protecting the environment is worth it.

“Then seeing it develop to what it is becoming, is enriching. And it’s very exciting to see it flourish from where we were to where we are now,” he told Currents News.

It could take a decade to dredge the entire canal, but much like the water, an end date is still unclear.