In a new study, the feds confirmed what you already knew: The Gowanus Canal is filthy. But last night, for the first time, they told New Yorkers exactly what the grimy Gowanus can do to their health.
Brooklynites shouldn’t swim, drink or eat anything caught in the canal, a Superfund site, the EPA advised residents at a forum at PS 32 on Hoyt Street last night.
“Direct contact” — such as regularly touching or drinking the water — brings risk from PAHs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have caused stomach, lung and skin cancer in lab animals. Kayakers frequent the canal, but they’re safe as long as they don’t splash too much water — or fall in.
Eating fish or crabs is also high-risk, EPA spokesman John Senn said. Toxic PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, contaminate the wildlife. Eating fish out of the canal can cause everything from a rash to cancer risks.
Pregnant women are most at risk. Mice fed high levels of PAHs bore young with birth defects. And some women who ate fish with PCBs had babies with cognitive defects.
“It’s a concern,” said Cobble Hill resident Karen Zukowski, pushing her 2-year-old over the canal. “You’d never know what’s seeping into the ground.”
The EPA promises the next step is a cleanup — but that could take years, and first requires another study.
At least the air’s not so bad
Breathing the air alongside the canal isn’t more dangerous than other parts of the city, Senn said, quite a difference from 40 years ago, when, “That canal had such a stench to it we couldn’t even open the windows,” said longtime area resident Betty Lester.