Filmed and cut by Charles le Brigand
All shots are video, no stills.

The Gowanus Canal is located in the heart of Brooklyn, bordering the neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. When the canal opened in 1866, it quickly became the nation's busiest commercial waterway and also the most polluted. The resulting growth of foundries, oil-storage facilities, dye works, printing plants, cement factories, tanneries, coal yards, chemical plants, paint and ink factories produced so much pollutants that the waterway was dubbed “Lavender Lake” by locals, inspired by the opaque bluish-purple color of the water.

The canal was also awfully designed. It was open at only one end, had no through-flow and was counting on the tide to flush the water way. In 1910, in response to the increasing pollution, the city dug an underground tunnel with the idea to replace the stagnant water with fresh water. Eventually, the tunnel shut down in 1960 and the canal become polluted again. But, by the time the pump broke down, the area was already in decline and the canal became a place to discharge garbage and the mob’s favorite spot for dumping bodies.

As of today, the canal’s water and the surrounding lands contain pollutants like coal tar, mercury, arsenic, lead, PCBs, pesticides, volatile organic compounds and sewage solids creating the killer bouquet of rancid eggs. Cholera, typhoid, typhus and gonorrhea are some of the fatal bacterial diseases that can be found in the water. Added to the air and noise pollution generated by the Gowanus Expressway, makes the “Gowanus Creek” a wonderful place to raise a family.

At least, this is what mega-developers thought...

Toll Brothers Inc., one of the country’s largest builders of luxury homes, had plans to convert factories, depots, warehouses and worker’s home into a 450-condo luxury housing project on the canal's banks and was putting pressure on the city to rapidly clean-up the area.

But in March 2010, The federal Environmental Protection Agency put the Gowanus Canal to its list of Superfund cleanup program, which is reserved for the nation’s worst hazardous-waste sites. The move enraged city officials and the mega-developer saying the stigma of a Superfund label would scare off potential buyers. The EPA envisions a cleaning process of 10 to 12 years. Economical development being incompatible with environmental restoration, Toll Brothers recently announced it would stop the development along the canal. “Fifteen years of having our money out the door and not having a return didn’t make financial sense.” said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president.

Two weeks ago, a micro tornado hit south Brooklyn and caused some raw sewage to spill into the already polluted canal. One additional reason to justify the Superfund status and to keep the mega-developers away...

Video and words by Charles le Brigand
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All rights reserved. Une production de Brigand © 2010

Music: "Flying Carpet" by Zenzile

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