Now that I’m on the EPA’s local media mailing list, I noticed a blog post from the EPA regional team managing the Hudson River dredging project, a five-year initiative to remove “2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson.” More than one million cubic yards have been removed since the project began in 2009.
This blog post was eye-opening for several reasons. One, I did not know this project was even happening. Two, that almost three million cubic yards of gunk was still polluting the Hudson after years of rehabilitation efforts. Three, that the post didn’t mention where all of the sludge was going once it left the Hudson. And four, that this enormous project was just one of many Superfund sites in and around New York City.
While researching my Gowanus Canal robot article, I became intimately familiar with one NYC-based Superfund site. I also knew that Newtown Creek, a similarly horribly polluted industrial waterway creating the border between Queens and Brooklyn, was deemed a Superfund site in 2010. But I was not aware that New York City and neighboring Nassau County were home to an uncomfortable number of areas so polluted that the EPA had to step in with their scrub brushes.
According to the EPA’s list, New York State has 87 Superfund sites (also known as the National Priority List, or NPL). There are many more slated for remedial action, like removal of the entire site or rehabilitation of the site (known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA] list). Queens County boasts four sites, including one Superfund site—the Radium Chemical Company Inc. of Woodside. Brooklyn boasts the aforementioned Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek Superfunds as well as the Brookhattan Smelting and Refining site in Red Hook, scheduled for removal. Lucky Staten Island has no Superfunds but does have two other pollution pits: Jewett White Lead Company (removal) and Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals, LLC (RCRA). The entire west side of the city enjoys views of the Hudson River PCBs site.
By far, the local winner is Nassau County, home to 23 polluted sites. A whopping 18 of those are Superfunds, ranging from petrochemical plants and steel mills to landfills to contaminated groundwater areas.
While dredging is one way of cleaning up the Gowanus, the Hudson and other waterways, sludge-eating microbes could also work, according to this video. In California, workers are mixing a delicious stew of molasses, cheese whey and water for the busy little bacteria to feed on as they neutralize industrial solvents in groundwater. Might this method be perfect for Brooklyn? We already love artisanal cheese.