Kayaking and fishing are fine in the Gowanus Canal—but you'll want to limit your seafood consumption.
Attention, New York City tourists: There’s a new water attraction in town.
That is, if you’re brave enough to risk the historically polluted waterway of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. A new public health assessment from the New York State Department of Health suggests that the famously inhospitable canal—which runs for 1.8 miles through parts of the hip tree-lined neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens—is now safe for leisure activities like kayaking and even a spot of recreational fishing.
“Because of many years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal is one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies,” the report admits, referencing its history as a channel for barges starting in 1853 and an outlet for sewage and industrial wastes.
That said, things seem to be cautiously looking up for the Canal. While the report noted the presence of hazards like fecal coliform bacteria and chemicals like benzopyrene, which is related to increased cancer risks, ultimately the Department of Health concluded that “recreational boating” and “catch and release fishing” shouldn’t be harmful to people’s health. They still don’t recommend taking a full-body dip or dunking your head any time soon, though.
Further, if you do plan to consume the local marine species that inhabit the waterway, there are some definitive guidelines: stay away from the eels and white perch, and only feast on needlefish, bass, and perch once a month, max. (And women under the age of 50 should stay away from the seafood altogether.)
But come hot city summers, it’s likely residents and visitors will start taking advantage of the canal, thanks to this report's (admittedly tepid) assurances of improving health and a plan to invest up to $500 million in its restoration in future.