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HS explores the Gowanus Canal

Dirt Editor

 Field Trip to the Gowanus Canal

Field Trip to the Gowanus Canal

On the afternoon November 7th a group of Saint Ann’s high schoolers jumped on the subway and went to explore the Gowanus Canal. At the Union Street bridge we met Natasia Sidarta, from here she would lead us on a tour of the toxic site.


Two hundred years ago a marshy plot in Brooklyn, named after Gouwane, a local native american chief, and connected to the upper New York Bay, turned into a major maritime and commercial hub. Over time, the marsh was filled in, a canal was dug through it and water factories were erected alongside. The water that flowed through the canal came from waste water from the manufacturing buildings and toxic runoff from the land around the canal. It also came from New York’s combined sewage system, which allows both stormwater and wastewater to travel in the same pipe to a Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) facility.


Today, two centuries later in modern Brooklyn, that polluted canal still exists, filled with water from our city’s inefficient and outdated combined sewage system. Because the system cannot accommodate more than ¼ inch of rain, the excess water is dumped straight into nearby bodies of water such as the East River or the Gowanus Canal. Years of this polluted treatment have left the Gowanus Canal as one of the most toxic waste sites in The United States.


In 2010 the federal government targeted the Gowanus Canal to become a SuperFund site for cleaning up our country’s most chemically horrendous areas. Its goals include finding the parties responsible (PRPs) for the pollution and funding long-term and expensive clean-up projects. The Gowanus Canal cleanup is a $506-million project due for completion by 2022. Many Saint Ann’s parents have contributed to the purge of the canal. One of these is Susannah Drake ( who has designed a sponge park to absorb chemicals out of the water.


Fun Facts about the Gowanus Canal:

  • Because of its chemical composition it is an optimal location for pathogenic life. Technically the Canal has gonorrhea!

  • Urban myths conclude that the Canal was used as a dumping site for the New York City Mafia.

~ Agnes G.