Monday, June 17th, 2013...8:48 pm

The Gowanus Has Gonorrhea!

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This should not be a surprise to you if you’ve been keeping up with the local headlines, or perhaps the HBO series Bored to Death– which dedicated an entire episode to this pressing local issue.


Thank you, NYC media- for keeping us all informed about the sexual health of the Gowanus Canal

Every time the City’s combined sewage and stormwater system gets overwhelmed- raw sewage is released into the waters of NYC, so it makes sense that the occasional nasty bacteria or virus makes its way  into the Canal. However, I have yet to see any published data which refers specifically to STDs. Bonus points to anyone who can find this data from a credible source!

But don’t get too comfortable…

The canal is far from safe, and is most definitely teeming with bacteria- not to mention the 100’s of historical pollutants that  helped earn the Canal its Superfund status. Here is what I was able to find in regards to bacteria levels:

  • Riverkeeper  keeps a pretty up-to-date list of Gowanus bacteria counts and risk levels, which they correlate to rainfall. Not surprisingly, the risk level is elevated the day of, and the day after a rain event.
  • The EPA released the findings of the monitoring they did post-Sandy, where they looked at the houses that were flooded with water from the Gowanus during the storm. They report notes high levels of enterococci and fecal coliform in the buildings they tested.
  • This one may be a bit dated, but a group at St. Francis University found evidence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in New York Harbor, including the Gowanus Canal, in the early 1990’s.

As this last point implies, the scary bacteria issue is not limited to the Gowanus. Harmful bacteria and other pollutants from combined sewage overflows are a problem for all of NYC’s waterbodies.  As I was walking home today through Brooklyn Bridge Park (one of the City’s finer parks, might I add) I passed an obvious combined sewage overflow site. The scene got me thinking that perhaps the Gowanus is not the only NYC waterbody with potential STDs lurking amongst the flotsam.

Let’s Play A Game

How many condoms can you spot in this sewage overflow?

(I stopped counting at 10)


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  • If you look at the Riverkeeper data, and even DEP harbor reports from the past decade, you will find that Gowanus always clocks the highest level of pathogen concentrations. It is misleading to leave out the part that pathogen data is compared by concentration levels. Your statement : “the scary bacteria issue is not limited to the Gowanus” imply that the problems Gowanus faces are the same throughout the city’s waters when they are far from any similarity. Newtown Creek, with a treatment plant, comes close to Gowanus concentration averages, but Gowanus’s annual concentration assessments are always the highest in the city.
    No place in the NYC harbor has consistently clocked the high concentration levels that Gowanus, even when the Flushing Tunnel was running.

  • Thanks for responding- you add a good point- I did not mean make light of the issues being faced in the Gowanus, merely to point out that sewage overflows (and associated bacteria) are a city-wide problem.

  • The City DEP uses the fact that CSO are a city-wide problem as their reason they don’t believe they need to do more to fix the problems Gowanus.
    Gowanus and Newtown would be love to have the levels of CSO’s the rest of the city enjoys.

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