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Gowanus Abstract Collection >



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A giant claw pulls from a mountain of scrap metal along the bank of the Gowanus Canal near Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn at Benson Metal, one of the few industrial sites remaining on the waterway cutting through the brownstone neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The canal was designated one of the most polluted waterways in America.

“Somebody needs to heat homes and recycle metal and clean out garbage,” said Mike Petrosino, co-owner of a fifth-generation, family business that operates Benson Metal, one of two scrap-metal yards that abut the canal and use it for loading and unloading barges. “The canal acts as an infrastructure that supports the city.”

But their time on the canal may be at an end. Cited in 2012 for polluting the Gowanus, the mountain of metal may disappear as the EPA cleans the Superfund site.

I have photographed the Gowanus Canal, located in one of the densest population centers in America, for over thirty years. In that time, I have seen the real estate around the polluted waterway soar in value. The 1.7 mile long canal is currently in an EPA Superfund cleanup plan that is estimated to be over $1.5 billion, and the entire project won’t be completed until mid-2023. Unfortunately, the developers now rule and high rises will cut off access to what could have been an amazing waterfront for the community.

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