Apr 23, 2015 12:01 AM

Clean-water advocate takes Earth Day swim at Superfund site

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) A clean-water advocate took an Earth Day swim in the polluted Gowanus Canal, a federal Superfund site.

"I'm going in!" yelled Christopher Swain, wearing a yellow-and-black protective suit and a green swim cap as he crossed a railing into the water near a sewage discharge point in Brooklyn, where a sign warns people to stay out of the water.

He was accompanied Wednesday by a woman in a kayak, paddling a few feet away from him.

"It's not safe to swim in here," he said afterward, stating the obvious. The canal water "tasted like mud, poop, ground-up grass, detergent, gasoline."

He didn't swallow, and he gargled with hydrogen peroxide.

Police stood watch but did not intervene. Swain, 47, got out about a half-hour later. He said the weather forecast cut his swim in half, but he promised to return another time.

"I've patiently waited for this to be cleaned up," the Boston-area resident said. "It's crazy that the most polluted waterway in the United States of America is in the United States of America's greatest city, New York."

The Gowanus Canal is known as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States. The 19th-century canal was once a major transportation route. By law, it's being cleaned up to the tune of half a billion dollars. Cleanup efforts are slated for completion in 2022.

Much of the costs will be paid by the companies that caused the contamination or their successors.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says contaminants include PCBs, which were banned in the U.S. in 1979.

The canal runs over 1.5 miles through a narrow industrial zone near some of Brooklyn's wealthiest neighborhoods. Swain estimated that he swam about two-thirds of a mile on Wednesday.

He described the water, fed by industrial waste including residue from heavy metals and chemicals: "It's really turbid. It's really cloudy. You can hardly see anything. It's gross."

Swain said it's clear environmental experts are working hard on the cleanup.

"It's slow, and it's a big job," he said. "But they're actually getting somewhere."

He said he hoped the Gowanus would someday be healthy enough for normal swimming.

"We put a man on the moon. We split the atom," he added. "We can clean up the Gowanus Canal."



EPA: http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/gowanus/

Christopher Swain: http://www.onehealthyocean.org/SwimWithSwain/


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