IG Slams EPA Failures in Bombshell Gowanus Report IG Slams EPA Failures in Bombshell Gowanus Report

March 21, 2024

Inspector General Slams EPA and NYC in Bombshell Gowanus Report

Investigation Uncovers Massive Cost Overruns, Major Delays, and Failed Enforcement in Gowanus CSO Tank Construction   

GOWANUS, BROOKLYN - EPA Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell issued a report this morning outlining how oversight failures by EPA Region 2 and willful obstruction by the City of New York have led to soaring costs and increased health risks in Gowanus. 

In a statement released alongside the report, Mr. O’Donnell took EPA Region 2 to task: 

“Substantial delays and significant cost increases are unacceptable for the residents living near the Gowanus Canal and for the taxpayers who must pay for the increasing costs,” said Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell. “The EPA needs to strengthen its enforcement and actively supervise construction efforts to ensure this project is completed without further financial losses or environmental contamination.”

The report shows that the project cost has ballooned to over $1 billion — more 1,300% increase from the original estimate of $78 million — and that the project is more than six and a half years behind schedule, with additional delays likely, leading to added health risks to the Gowanus community. The IG also flags that the delays and compounding cost increases make the EPA 2021 Administrative Order the largest dollar-value Superfund unilateral order in the history of the EPA, an ignominious distinction all too sadly consistent with the long history of agency failure in Gowanus.    

The audit was initiated by an original complaint submitted by community coalition Voice of Gowanus (VoG); the report validates the group’s grave concerns about EPA Region 2’s failure to take proper enforcement actions against the City and State of New York to ensure a comprehensive clean-up of the Gowanus area that is protective of human health and the environment. Those concerns persist as contaminated groundwater continues to spread legacy toxics — including TCE — throughout the upland areas in Gowanus, leading to multiple documented cases of toxic vapor intrusion and dangerously elevated levels of toxic material near schools, churches, and senior housing. 

Despite VoG repeatedly documenting these concerns and failures throughout multiple processes — including via EPA’s Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) meetings and submitted comments on the Gowanus Rezoning Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — EPA, the State of New York, and the City of New York simply ignored the endemic failure to comply with both the Superfund law and the Clean Water Act during a rushed redevelopment process that will ultimately increase the number of New Yorkers exposed to known contaminants. The EPA IG report reinforces community concerns regarding EPA’s failure to act as an “involved agency” in the Gowanus Rezoning EIS. 

In January, the EPA Office of Inspector General announced they will expand their audit probe in Gowanus to: “Determine whether EPA oversight of cleanup efforts at the Gowanus Canal upland contamination sites has promoted timely remediation that is protective of public health based on planned future land uses.”

These “upland contamination sites” include the land directly surrounding the Gowanus Canal, where three manufactured gas plants, tanneries, and other industrial operations soaked the land in carcinogenic toxic waste, making Gowanus one of the most polluted areas in the country and a designated EPA Superfund site. The “planned future land uses” refer to the ongoing effort to rapidly redevelop these same toxic land parcels into residential housing for the very first time, as a result of the City’s 2021 Gowanus Rezoning. 

Voice of Gowanus calls upon EPA Region 2 to immediately take over the remediation of all sites bordering the Gowanus Canal and the 3 MGP sites (Citizens, Fulton, Metropolitan) as Subsites and/or Operable Units of the federal Gowanus Superfund Site, as well as institute enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act to remove the Gowanus Canal from the NY State “Impaired Water List.”