A Swim in the Lavendar Lake
New York City has done a lot over the past several decades to clean up their waterways. Then there's the Gowanus Canal. This piece appeared in the New York Times last week:
A Fetid Protest: Swimming the Gowanus Canal
By Eleanor Randolph October 20, 2015 10:44 am
New York City’s Gowanus Canal is one of the foulest, most polluted stretches of water in the country. It was a dumping ground for a variety of industries and assorted criminal types for over 100 years. Raw sewage flows into the canal routinely when it rains. And the Environmental Protection Agency has issued this simple and direct warning: “Never swim in the canal.”
Yet last Saturday Christopher Swain did just that. He swam through disgusting waste and garbage, through a toxic foam that smelled like gas and hydraulic fluid, through multi-colored swirls of oily water. Before the swim, he took time out to explain his reasons for doing what was widely viewed as rash, dumb or simply insane.
“Call me crazy, but I have hope,” Mr. Swain noted shortly before the swim. “I dream of the day when the Gowanus Canal — and all the impaired waterways of New York City — are hailed as urban jewels.” More specifically, he said he swam the canal to remind people that the Clean Water Act of 1972 promised that humans could “use and enjoy” the nation’s waterways for swimming, fishing and boating. By indulging in this perilous dip, he wanted to prod officials to clean up this very ripe toxic waste site very quickly.
Right now, the EPA has estimated that it will take $506 million and another five years, at least, to dredge out the substance that covers the bottom of the canal. Often called “black mayonnaise,” it is a deadly mix that includes PCBs, asbestos chips, arsenic, copper, lead and mercury, as well as trash such as pieces of toilets and illegal guns. Viruses and bacteria thrive in this foul soup, an extra warning to anybody who imagines following in Mr. Swain’s unhealthy wake.
The 47-year-old environmental activist acknowledged that he worked hard to protect himself from the canal’s poisonous stew. He wore a puncture-resistant suit with gloves and fins that kept him dry up to his neck. Then, however, there was his head. He wore a cap and ear plugs and smeared his skin with protective jelly. And he did the breaststroke, trying to keep his head above water. When it did not work and he got water in his mouth, a team member following in a nearby kayak gave him hydrogen peroxide to zap the germs. Friendly doctors have been watching him closely since the swim, he said, to make certain he has not been overly contaminated.
Almost anybody who visits the Gowanus Canal imagines a little Venice someday in the heart of Brooklyn. Mr. Swain has taken a drastic route to make his case, but maybe he will help push the government to make the Gowanus a place people can “use and enjoy” and, of course, survive.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A Swim in the Lavendar Lake