Oct. 17, 2015 marks the first completed swim of one of the most polluted canals in the United States: the Gowanus Canal that flows through Brooklyn, New York. Christopher Swain is an advocate for cleaner waterways, and swam through the garbage-strewn slurry, hoping to raise awareness and encourage action from government officials to implement an effective water treatment program.
Swain has been an advocate for clean water since 1996 and has swam through many polluted bodies of water collecting data on the water quality. He is hoping that his efforts will increase consciousness for the environment and instigate demand to remedy polluted areas.
The Canal carries harmful pathogens and viruses, such as E. coli, from raw sewage being dumped; oil, gasoline and garbage can be seen floating on the water’s surface and the canal’s bottom is a toxic mix of heavy metals and coal tars. Swain armored himself with waterproof gel on his face, gloves, dry suit, and a swim cap and goggles. The 1.8 mile swim took him around an hour to complete, as Swain stopped to give interviews and briefly talk with his supporters at each overhead bridge.
The canal has made it onto the National Priorities List of the EPA, making it eligible for a cleanup plan under the accordance of the Superfund program. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund program, is a federal law aimed to remedy sites contaminated with hazardous materials.
EPA officials intervene when they rank the water pollution at a 28.5 out of 100, and the Canal was recently scored a 50. Polluted waters can be a threat to human safety: some issues that are immediately threatening to humans are the possibility of them being harmed by medical waste and sharp objects that can wash up onto shores, and ingestion of contaminated water can cause illness and death in people and animals.
Urgent intervention of government officials is needed to create a long term solution, implement more education programs and develop stronger penalties to its citizens discovered contributing to the pollution.