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Gowanus Canal Swim Activist Planning a More In-Depth Toxic Plunge

By Leslie Albrecht | October 15, 2015 12:45pm | Updated on October 15, 2015 1:16pm
 The clean water advocate Christopher Swain says he'll take a dip in the polluted canal on Saturday.
Activist Planning Second Swim in Toxic Gowanus Canal
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GOWANUS — He's a glutton for pollution.

The clean water advocate who took a swim in the toxic Gowanus Canal in April says he'll return to the polluted waterway this Saturday.

Christopher Swain, whose dip into the filthy canal drew international attention six months ago, announced Thursday that he's ready for a second plunge.

Swain said this time he'll try to swim the entire length of the 1.8-mile canal — his previous trip was cut short by bad weather.

"I don't want to do a partial swim any more than I want to see a partial cleanup of the canal,” Swain told DNAinfo New York. "I'd like to see every waterway in New York City be cleaned up to the point where it’s safe for swimming every day."

Swain said he plans to use Saturday's swim "to measure, map, and document the state of the Gowanus."

He'll take water samples and monitor his heart rate during the swim, which will be recorded using aerial photopraphy and perhaps by underwater cameras too, he said. The public is invited to follow the fun by taking their own photos and video and tagging them #GowanusSwim.

Swain said the swim is a bid to raise awareness about the importance of cleaning the canal, which is one of the most polluted waterways in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Some have dismissed Swain's swims as publicity-seeking stunts, but Swain — who swam the entire length of the Hudson River in 2004 — defended his aquatic activism.

"I've spent the last 20 years working for clean water and I've chosen to risk my body and my life to do that because I love the water," Swain said. "If wanting the Gowanus Canal to be swimmable is crazy, then yes, I'm completely insane."

The EPA is leading a $506 million cleanup of the canal that will make it clean enough for boating, but not safe enough for swimming. The canal's water is so dirty that health officials warn humans not to touch it.

The EPA has said Swain is allowed to swim in the canal, but warned him against doing so.

“EPA strongly advises against swimming in the Gowanus Canal. Swimming in the waters of the Gowanus Canal pose [sic] a risk from exposure to site related hazardous chemicals as well as pathogens associated with sewage discharge,” the agency said in a letter, according to Swain.

Used as a dumping ground by industrial businesses for decades, the canal is brimming with contaminants including PCBs, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals. Raw sewage regularly flows into the canal and the water has been found to contain gonorrhea.

During the April swim, Swain wore a protective suit, goggles and ear plugs to keep water away from his body. He said he's been in "great" health since the April swim.

"I've had no problems at all," Swain said.

Swain plans to enter the canal from a private boat near the Union Street bridge around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17. The public is invited to join him after the swim at about 4 p.m. at the roofdeck at Ample Hills Creamery on Union Street.