Archives for category: STEM Education


As Winter arrives it is the perfect time for us to reflect on our Fall School Clean & Green season! We always have such a blast with our School Clean & Green programs. Schools from all around NYC come to learn about the Gowanus Canal and participate in environmental stewardship activities!


Our Educator, Diana Gruberg, leading a discussion on combined sewage overflow with Packer Collegiate School.

For those of you that don’t know reducing Combined Sewage Overflow (CSOs) in the Gowanus is at the heart of the GCC mission. In New York City we have what is called a combined sewer system – meaning that all of the pipes combine rainwater and sanitary sewage. Your drain pipes at home, at the office, and on the street all flow into one set of pipes and when too much rain causes back up raw sewage and stormwater will overflow directly into the Gowanus Canal and other points across the city.This overflow is usually triggered by a rainfall of just one inch or less! So, as you can imagine, our sewers overflow a lot. In the Gowanus Canal 377 million gallons of raw sewage is discharged annually due to CSO and 27 billion gallons of sewage flows into the rest of NYC’s water bodies every year.


CSO is a very important issue that we think every New Yorker should know about — and — what better way to educate the public than to start with youth! Before students grab their shovels and wheelbarrows, they learn how CSOs pollute water and how taking care of permeable space, like gardens, bioswales and street trees, can soak up stormwater and lessen the burden on the aging sewer system. They learn about the other benefits green space provides, such as canopy, cooling, and habitat for pollinators. Making as much green space as possible is especially important around polluted waterways like the Gowanus Canal. We think that all NYC students can be environmental stewards when they have the knowledge about why it’s important and opportunity to get their hands dirty.

This Fall in our School Clean & Greens around 300 students performed 732 service hours in just a 3-month period! We are very excited this many students contributed to making Gowanus cleaner and greener and look to have even more students come out in the Spring.

“Having the kids outside and in Gowanus was fantastic. I love that they truly got their hands dirty with planting projects, but were also challenged to explore the neighborhood and discover pollution and rehabilitation efforts on their own. It was a great mix.” – Rodeph Sholom School.


Students performing Bioswale Maintenance


A highlight of the season, this high school student put blood, sweat & tears into removing cobble stones that were compacting street tree soil!


Students get an up close look at the Gowanus Canal and one of its CSO outfall points indicated by green wet weather discharge signs.


Hunter College High School put in a lot of work on the 2nd Ave Street End Rain Garden.

During the cold winter months the GCC will pause our programing, regroup for next season and resume scheduling in March 2017! We are already fast at work planning stewardship activities and education plans for next season.

Last, but not least, EXPO Gowanus will take place on May 20, 2017 at Thomas Greene Park in Gowanus. This is an opportunity for students to exhibit their Gowanus-related projects at our annual community event and be public ambassadors for the Gowanus Canal. Watch this video showing students at last year’s event. Registration for EXPO Gowanus will be open soon!

**For more information on our education program, School Clean & Green programs or EXPO Gowanus visit our website or contact our Education Coordinator, Shelby, at**

After two months of investigating, researching and reporting, 8th grade students from Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies wrote investigative news articles about the Gowanus Canal. Each student chose their own angle and investigation to focus on. Here is one of our favorites about coal tar contamination in the Canal. 
Coal tar has been polluting the canal since the 1800’s and will be dredged out of the Canal during the Superfund clean-up process. For more about the clean up, see Gowanus Superfund.

Coal Tar In The Gowanus Canal

By: Maryory Martinez

New Tourist Attraction?

Niagara Falls, the Statue Of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park, and now the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn? There has been a new addition to the list of grand tourist attractions in the United States. A very peculiar one. Unlike other tourist attractions, the Gowanus Canal isn’t gaining publicity and tourists because of its “beauty” or its “history.” The Gowanus Canal isn’t beautiful and that’s exactly what’s luring people there. The foul smell. The filthy green water. The disgusting coal tar hidden in the depths of that water. That is luring people there. But people seem to ignore the obvious problem that the canal is facing. Coal tar is still in the canal and continues contaminate the water and the environment around it.

Severely Polluted Water

Since the late 1800s, factories and waste treatment plants would get rid of their wastes in the Gowanus Canal (Clean Water Act of 1972). Slowly, this resulted in the accumulation of coal tar on the canal’s floor, severely polluting the water. Coal tar is a thick, black liquid produced by the refining of coal that carries hazardous chemicals such as benzene, anthracene, and phenol ( This makes the canal unsafe for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing or simply being too close to the water. “What lives in the Gowanus is the most toxic bath of chemicals you can imagine,” said Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital.

What Now?

Finally, after years of protests and complaints, the Government declared the Gowanus Canal a “Superfund” site. A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been polluted by hazardous waste and has drawn the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes it a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment (United States National Library of Medicine). According to a decision made by the Federal Government in 2010, the entire canal will be clean from coal tar by 2022. This decision was a huge step in the right direction.

Want to teach students about the Gowanus Canal through field studies and hands-on projects? See our STEM Gowanus Urban Ecology Curriculum for middle schools.