Gowanus Your Face Off
Gowanus, Brooklyn
The crack between two hipster neighborhoods, home to the now superfunded Canal, the flash point for the new 'Buy Local' and textile revolutions, & filled with brilliant bohemians. . . this is Gowanus & it’ll awesome your face off.

Now the Canal’s Polluted? Try 100 Years Ago!

Every time someone brings up the Gowanus Canal, you always hear that it’s been polluted for a long time. But, really? How long has it been polluted? Five; Ten; Twenty years. . . try Over One Hundred Years!

Recently, the GYFO team has found a periodical from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Contributions from the Sanitary Research Laboratory and Sewage Experiment Station Vol 3-4 : Technology Quarterly, featuring an article dating from 1908 titled: Investigation of Sanitary Conditions of the Gowanus Canal. The information in for the piece contains research from the author Charles F. Breizke and an abstract from research done by N. P. Gerhard. Both of these men in the late 1800s analysed the Canal to evaluated sanitary issues and sewage problems. Their findings were then, and are now, both shocking and in a way unimaginable. It is very sad to think that people new about the dangers of the Canal long ago and that only now, because of a push by a Federal ‘Superfunding’, will their findings and the tragedy of this human disaster be addressed.

In this new ongoing series we will delve into the work of Charles F. Breizke and Norman P. Gerhard in the hope that their research can be added to the history of the Canal and it’s eventual revitalization. Their work should ultimately act as a warning to those who dismiss or willfully ignore the destruction of natural resources.

To start let’s briefly look at what Charles F. Breizke says about the sewage flow to see whether or not sewage is flowing correctly into the Canal during the late 19th Century.

. . .1888 the sewers became too small, and the legislature of that year passed an act permitting the discharge of storm water sewers into the Gowanus Canal. In 1892 a 15-foot main relief sewer, which intercepts all the storm water in the mains draining that portions of Brooklyn lying south of Greene Avenue, was brought down to the head of Gowanus Canal, at Butler Street…, and completed. Nothing but storm water was intended to enter this relief sewer, but, whether by accident or design, it is now flowing during dry weather and is discharging sewage into the Canal. [p250]

The surface of the canal is covered with scum. In the upper portion this characteristic of domestic sewage, such as grease and slime, partially disintegrated human faeces [feces], and other organic matter. The lower portion of the canal from the Bond Street sewer outlet sewer outlet to Gowanus Bay is covered with unsightly patches of floating rubbish which have been accumulated by the action of the tugboats, wind, and tide. These patches consist largely of brown and yellow oily substances, which spread out in thick layers on the water surface and seem to gather up all the other floating debris, such as waste paper, fecal matter, melon rinds, banana skins, kitchen refuse, tin cans, broken boxes, coal dust, and other matter. [p254]

Seems that the waters of the Canal were probably experiencing the same disgusting problems that are shown in this video from 2010. If you head to the Canal on any given day you will find waste paper, fecal matter, melon rinds, and banana skins still floating on the Canal. Of course these can’t be the exact same items. The items listed are most likely a part of the muck along the bottom of the Canal. Later after many more description of the sewage problems Mr. Breizke will explore solutions, which we will ultimately also review.

In an upcoming postings we will look into the various business along the Canal listed in this article, the pollutions they are said to have caused, and if they remain in operation along the Canal. We will go over the height variations of the Canal researched; as well as the Chemical analysis listed in the article, which will try our best (us not being scientist) to compair it what the EPA has found in it’s recently review.


*The Investigation of Sanitary Conditions of the Gowanus Canal is available for Free through Google Book here.

If you have additional data or wish to contribute to this series, please send an email to [email protected]


This series is meant to educate people on the historical scientific analysis done on the Gowanus Canal.





Submit your comment

Please enter your name

Your name is required

Please enter a valid email address

An email address is required

Please enter your message

Gowanus Your Face Off © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Gowanus, Brooklyn

Creative/Design by BenWonderful

Layout by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress