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Pollution & HealthGowanus Canal Visit Offers an Educational Opportunity to Environmental Science and Policy...

Gowanus Canal Visit Offers an Educational Opportunity to Environmental Science and Policy Students

Gowanus Canal Visit Offers an Educational Opportunity to Environmental Science and Policy Students

Carrie Fernandes, Sylvia Gan, and Tal Henig-Hadar
|August 4, 2023

For the past several years, Michael Musso, a lecturer in environmental health sciences and international and public affairs at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Steven Chillrud, a research professor in geochemistry at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, have organized an annual field trip to the Gowanus Canal in the course of the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy program’s summer term.

The visit, planned with the assistance of the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus community group (FROGG), provides the scholars with insight into the impacts of environmental pollution, the resultant community struggles, and the motion—or inaction—by local and federal authorities to wash up the canal and its surrounding areas.

Environmental Science and Policy students visited the Gowanus Canal as a part of an annual educational field trip.

The Gowanus Canal is a 100-foot wide, 1.8-mile-long canal in Brooklyn, Latest York, that was designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site in 2010. In-built the mid-1800s, the Gowanus Canal was once a part of a serious industrial transportation route and operated as a waste dumping site by gas and chemical plants and other heavy industry operations throughout the late nineteenth century, before the Clean Water Act of 1972. Outflows from Latest York’s outdated combined sewer system also released contaminants from untreated sewage and stormwater runoff into the Gowanus Canal. Despite multiple attempts to wash out the canal over time, the pollution stays, affecting the lives of the local residents and businesses.

This yr, students were divided into 4 groups, each guided by a distinct member of FROGG, who shared the history behind the historic pollution of the Gowanus and their experiences fighting it. Throughout the day, the professors, students, and guides discussed the complexity of the situation on the community, regional, and federal levels, in addition to the considerations for pollution cleanup. The guides also shared their firsthand experience witnessing the changes and infrastructural development over time, equivalent to the various industrial complexes along the canal which have been converted into art museums, residential buildings and other land uses.

For the scholars, a lot of whom were seeing and learning in regards to the Gowanus Canal for the primary time, the sphere trip was also a welcome break from their intense schedule of summer courses. Christina Morano, an incoming Environmental Science and Policy student, said, “I actually liked attending to know the tour guides and having the chance to listen to them voice their opinions on development within the Gowanus neighborhood. Having a guided tour of the local area, it really helps bring additional insight to what we learned in school.”

One other student, Saiarchana Darira, said, “I discovered it impactful to learn in regards to the importance of considering the needs of a community when constructing a canal that neighbors their living space. Gowanus Canal is some of the contaminated bodies of water within the U.S., yet there remains to be not enough public knowledge about its environmental health impacts, especially to non-English speaking residents living within the region. It is crucial to seek out cross-cultural ways in which transcend language boundaries to speak with residents, in order that communities could make informed consent before living in an area that neighbors a contaminated site.”

The Environmental Science and Policy program was designed to cultivate the following generation of environmental policy makers and environmental science communicators. The annual Gowanus Canal trip, together with the opposite field trips this system organizes, plays a key role in exposing the scholars to the problems and injustices, in addition to the communities, they may spend their careers advocating for. Columbia University’s collaboration with FROGG allows the scholars to develop an important first-person perspective on how environmental issues like water pollution and unregulated development affect local neighborhoods.


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