Gowanus Canal

The New York State Department of Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry complete a Public Health Assessment for every site in New York that is proposed to the US Environmental Protection Agency National Priorities List, also known as the federal Superfund list. In a Public Health Assessment, the health agencies review information about hazardous substances at a site and evaluate whether exposure to those substances might cause harm to human health.

For the Gowanus Canal Public Health Assessment, we evaluated existing environmental data for chemicals in surface water, sediment, outdoor air and fish and biological contaminants in surface water. Based on this information and reports that some city residents use the Gowanus Canal for canoeing, scuba diving, and swimming, and some catch and eat fish and crabs from the canal, the New York State Department of Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have the following health advice:

picture of Gowanus Canal
  • Eating fish and crabs taken from the Gowanus Canal could harm people's health, due to chemical contaminants in the fish. Women under 50 years old and children under 15 years old should not eat any fish or crabs from these waters. Others should follow the State Health Department's health advisories for eating fish and crabs from this and other waterways.
  • Swimming and scuba diving (full body immersion activities) could harm people's health due to chemical, biological and physical hazards (underwater debris and commercial boat traffic). Contact with chemicals in accessible sediments is a potential health concern for swimmers, as well as others, who might contact the sediments during fishing, boating or wading.
  • Canoeing, kayaking, boat touring and "catch and release" fishing are not expected to harm people's health, although there may be some physical hazards, such as large commercial boat traffic.
  • Breathing contaminants from the Gowanus Canal in outdoor air near the canal is not expected to harm people’s health.

The following document has been prepared for the Gowanus Canal:

To obtain a copy of this document, either email us at documentcomments@health.ny.gov, call us at 518-402-7860, or write us at:

Center for Environmental Health, Bureau of Environmental Exposure Investigation, Empire State Plaza-Corning Tower, Room 1787 Albany, New York 12237

A copy of this document is also available at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/HCPHA.asp?State=NY