On some days I can tell it’s ebb tide in the Gowanus canal before I ever reach the water. On these days I know that I will see something both remarkable and disturbing as the ebb tide leaches out remnants of Brooklyn’s industrial past. Smelling like what I’d describe as an acrid turpentine-like smell it leads to something like a living and evolving canvas of impressionistic brilliance that flows beneath the 9th street bridge and then out to the Upper Bay and finally to the Atlantic Ocean.
Visually, it’s a masterpiece—ecologically it’s deadly poisonous and illustrative of just how polluted so much of this nation’s water is. The abstractions that flow beneath the 9th street bridge are comprised of PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, sewage solids from combined sewer overflows, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Standing there for more than a half hour induced a 2 day long headache and my skin itched all day until I could go home and take a shower.
In all though I was lucky. I could shower and remove the toxic taint that coated my body owing to the excellent water from upstate. So many Americans however don’t have that most basic of human needs as the water that comes from their taps contains some of contaminants that flowed beneath the bridge due to years of industrial dumping and poorly regulated environmental regulations.