Black Mayonaise

What Exactly Is the Black Mayonnaise at the Bottom of the Gowanus Canal?

Photo by Susan De Vries  by Craig Hubert

There are numerous mysteries about the Gowanus Canal. But the most baffling, not to mention terrifying, is the thick dark sludge that makes it way through the oily waters, that which has been called black mayonnaise.

Aside from its gross name — which is a pretty good descriptor, to be honest — there has rarely been an acceptable explanation of what black mayonnaise is, exactly, and how it is formed. So we reached out to Christos Tsiamis, the EPA’s Senior Project Manager for the Gowanus Superfund cleanup, and asked him to explain.

gowanus canal black mayonnaiseA core sample from the former First Street Basin near the BRT Power Station. Photo via EPA’s Gowanus Canal Facebook Group

Black mayonnaise is the “result of chemical waste that was discharged from the industries that operated along the canal as well as by New York City sewage and street runoff,” wrote Tsiamis in an email.

“The combination of the chemicals and sewage gave the sediment the soft texture of mayonnaise, while the combination of liquid tar from the manufactured-gas plants, petroleum products (such as motor and lubricating oils), decomposed organic matter and sewage gave to this sediment its black color.”

gowanus canal brooklyn superfund sitesPhoto by Hannah Frishberg

A 10-foot-high layer of black mayonnaise lays over the original native sediment at the bottom of the canal. But is it dangerous?

The answer is a resounding yes.

“It contains a multitude of chemicals (in the dozens) many of which are toxic and dangerous to human health upon repeated exposure or from consumption of fish that is caught at the canal (or at close proximity to it) over time,” wrote Tsiamis. This was determined by a risk assessment study conducted by the EPA in 2010.

Will the cleanup cleanse the canal of black mayonnaise forever? Two months of dredging, starting in December, is expected to permanently clean the bottom of the canal, according to Tsiamis. Meanwhile, the Gowanus’ two new underground holding tanks are expected to keep a good part of sewage and street run-off from overflowing into the canal during storms. “After the storm passes, the liquid held by these tanks will be pumped for treatment to the city’s treatment facilities,” he said.

Tsiamis says these measures will free the canal of black mayonnaise forever. But the EPA will be checking every five years anyway, just in case the substance inexplicably returns.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

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Earth Rights

Bolivia feels the challenge of Climate Change as snow capped Andes recede and water becomes more scarce

Bolivia’s “Law of Mother Earth”

“We believe that we cannot survive on this planet if we fail to see that human life cannot exist outside of nature.”

The Bolivian law that defends Mother Earth as a living system grants her a presence in a legal framework.  It is an important ideology that should be considered globally.

In highly urbanized areas, the built environment does a remarkable job of masking the resources that allow all forms of life to continue their existence on this planet.

As human populations grow, the majority of human activity will take place in urban areas.  Overcrowding brings traffic and exhaust, water quality and quantity issues, food shortages, air pollution, and a variety of natural disasters that destroy infrastructure and disrupt lives.   These issues can bring unrest, displacement, homelessness, war and death.

Bolivia’s law reestablishes deeply indigenous concepts concerning Earth within a political and legal framework.  It is a model for prioritizing the health of our planet and it should be configured into every nation’s environmental policies and sustainability goals.

The Law of Mother Earth outlines Seven Rights this planet is entitled to:

  1.  Life.  Maintenance of life systems’ integrity and the natural processes which sustain them, as well as the conditions for their renewal.
  2. Diversity of Life.   Preservation of the variety of beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered or artificially modified in their structure in any way that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential.
  3. Water.  Preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain and renew life systems and protection against contamination.
  4. Clean air.  Preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain and renew life systems and protection against contamination.
  5. Equilibrium.  Maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes.
  6. Restoration.  Effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities
  7. Live free of  contamination.  Preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities.

The Law of Mother Earth will be exacted into policy via five strategies:

  1. Incorporation a prevention and managed response to natural disasters.
  2. Agricultural risk management to prevent diminished crop yields and food insecurity.
  3. Adopt risk management for disasters and climate change.  Develop informational networks to issue early warnings during natural crisis. Assist the agricultural industry and indigenous communities to plan according to climate conditions.
  4. Strengthen territorial management of organizations, public lands and any other local governmental bodies through the incorporation of risk management and adaption to climate change.
  5. Articulation between public and private scientific research sectors to share knowledge and co-ordinate research regarding vulnerabilities related to climate change.

Bolivia is dependent on the glaciers in the Andes mountains as a reliable water source.  Their disappearance has severe and dangerous consequences forcing people to face the challenges of how and where to access clean water. The New York Times, “a World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people.”

andes

The images of snow-capped peaks we associate with the Andes mountain range are disappearing due to rising global temperatures. photo: New York Times

In an article from the Huffington Post, Peter Neill writes, “Change must begin somewhere, sometime; perhaps Bolivia is inventing the social model and role of governance that will demonstrate how we can transcend the global divisions and conflicts, beyond the destruction and despair that we feel, toward a harmonious, effective, efficient, and equitable society connected by the true value of nature as sustainer.  If so, should we not pay attention?”

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Rwanda and Kenya Plastic Pollution Leaders

Plastic bags get buried in the sand and become part of the beach.

Rwanda and Kenya are leading the world by eliminating a familiar problem: billions of plastic bags choking waterways and destroying entire ecosystems.  To fight this evil, all non-biodegradable plastic is banned from these countries.

At Kigali International Airport, a sign warns visitors that plastic bags will be confiscated.  Agents from the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) inspect travelers’ suitcases and discard all plastic films. Throughout the country, businesses have been forced to replace plastic carrier bags with paper ones.  The ban was a bold move. It paid off with an obvious improvement in clean countrysides, roadways, and water.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/15/rwanda-banned-plastic-bags-so-can-we

The United Nations, has begun a #CleanSeas campaign to eliminate the use of plastic microbeads and single-use plastic bags by 2022.   With more than 40 countries acting now to help meet this goal, there is no excuse for the rest of the world to wait.

Many other countries, states and cities are in the news because they are trying to deal with this horrific issue.

England imposed a 5-pence charge on plastic bags in 2015 and usage dropped 85 percent in the first nine months!

California became the first American state to ban plastic bags, in 2014.  State laws are slow to pass.  See where your state stands in the Ban the Bag push.   http://www.bagtheban.com/in-your-state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocked a New York City bill in 2014 to impose a 5-cent fee on plastic bags because less advantaged people would be unfairly targeted and the NYC economy is dependent on consumer convenience.  Early this year, Mr. Cuomo formed a task force to create passable legislation. That law cannot come soon enough.  The New York Department of Sanitation collects an average of 1,700 tons of plastic bags per week, costing $12.5 million per year in disposal expenses.    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/nyregion/cuomo-blocks-new-york-city-plastic-bag-law.html?mcubz=1

No bag is free of an environmental impact, whether that’s contributing to climate change, ocean pollution, water scarcity, or pesticide use. We tend to favor reusable bags in an attempt to reduce our chronic overconsumption, but they come with many associated problems.

Considering what we put in the bag at the store (unnecessary packaging, meat, products wrapped in plastic, single use products) and how we discard or use the bag after its achieved its original purpose has a real impact on the environment.

     
These books will open up a whole new world.  Color photographs, maps, and graphics explore one of the planet’s most dynamic environments—from tourist beaches to Arctic beaches strewn with ice chunks to steaming hot tropical shores.  The World’s Beaches tells how beaches work, explains why they vary so much, and shows how dramatic changes can occur on them in a matter of hours.  It discusses tides, waves, and wind; the patterns of dunes, washover fans, and wrack lines; and the shape of berms, bars, shell lags, cusps, ripples, and blisters.  This fascinating, comprehensive guide also considers the future of beaches, and explains how extensively people have affected them—from coastal engineering to pollution, oil spills, and rising sea levels.  The Beach Book tells sunbathers why beaches widen and narrow, and helps boaters and anglers understand why tidal inlets migrate.  It gives home buyers insight into erosion rates and provides natural-resource managers and interested citizens with rich information on beach nourishment and coastal-zone development.

Until next time,  

Garbage Girl