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Ten feet of Black Mayonnaise line the Gowanus Canal

Ten feet of Black Mayonnaise line the Gowanus Canal
Photo: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Gowanus Canal

“The canal is an open sewer with a layered bed of toxic waste and more raw sewage.” That’s how Joseph Alexiou, the author of the book Gowanus: Brooklyn's Curious Canal, which will be released Friday, recently described the canal to us. Lovely. Since we’ve all (hopefully) finished eating lunch, here are some fun facts he taught us about how disgusting the canal is:

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Gowanus, Brooklyn

Raw sewage still pours into the canal on the regular.
Basically, our storm water runoff and sewage get combined in our pipes, so when the system gets backed up (like, any time it rains), a mixture of polluted water from the street and sewage from our toilets gets dumped straight into the canal. Sound like something we’d have dealt with hundreds of years ago? Wrong. Approximately 400 million gallons of what the EPA calls Combined Sewage Overflow pour directly into the canal each year. And that doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon.

Many years of manufacturing means lots of toxins are still in the water.
After the canal was dug, it became a commercial thoroughfare in the heydays of Gowanus’ manufacturing power. The most important industry near the canal was gas production—big loads of coal would be boated in, then turned into the gas that lit lamps back in the day. Coal tar, a byproduct of that process, is one of the highest concentrated pollutants in the water. It’s a carcinogen.

There are lots of diseases in there. 
At various times throughout its history, strains of cholera have been found in the water, as have gonorrhea and typhoid. (Plenty of pathogens and carcinogens are in there, too.)

It's covered in Black Mayonnaise.
The canal is 1.8 miles long, and 100 feet wide. Throughout its entire length, a layer of coal tar and other industrial toxins that have mixed with sewage lines the bottom. The substance has been dubbed Black Mayonnaise due to its color and texture (delicious) and, on average, there’s a ten-foot layer of it along the whole canal.

Anyone care for a swim

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