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Toxic Avenger: Man Swims Gowanus Canal for Earth Day

By Ben Fractenberg | April 22, 2015 4:09pm
 Christopher Swain tried to swim the entire length of the Gowanus Canal on Earth Day to advocate for making the water clean enough to swim in, April 22, 2015. 
Gowanus Canal Swim
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BROOKLYN — Clean-water advocate Christopher Swain swam most of the Gowanus Canal on Earth Day Wednesday to promote cleanup of the polluted waterway for recreational swimming.

Swain — who once swam the entire length of the Hudson River in 2004 to draw attention to its pollution — jumped into the fetid waters on Degraw Street dressed in a yellow drysuit and green swimming cap with the word "hope" written on it.

"Let's not clean it part of the way — let's make it sparkle," Swain said after emerging from the murky water outside the Brooklyn Whole Foods. 

The canal was designated a Superfund site in 2010, and the Environmental Protection Agency released a $506 million cleanup plan in 2013, which is expected to take eight to 10 years.

“As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most extensively contaminated water bodies,” the EPA website reads. 

“Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.”

Swain said he was surprised by a "green smoothie taste" in the water. However, "the poop was expected," he noted. 

He made sure to gargle with hydrogen peroxide before getting out of the water. 

The cleanup plan calls for making the canal available for boating, but it could still take decades to make it safe for activities like fishing.

Swain’s swim is calling for “accelerated cleanup” to make the canal safe for swimming, according to his website.

Brooklyn resident Marielle Horan, 32, took time off from work to watch Swain, who she described as a "hero." 

She added that he made "a little splash that created sea change."