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Ooh-ooh, that well! EPA digs to find source of Gowanus toxins

It’s not all fun and games at an area playground — it’s also Superfund-related science!

This week, engineers installed a groundwater monitoring well near the basketball courts at Thomas Greene Playground at Third Avenue and Douglass Street, one of many wells the Environmental Protection Agency will oversee to help determine the source of pollution at the fetid Gowanus Canal.

The park is located on land once occupied by the Fulton Works coal gasification plant, a company that at one time produced fuel that helped illuminate the borough.

But gas plants, common in the region until the mid-1900s, also left behind a foul legacy, soaking the soil with coal tar, heavy metals and other pollutants which can interact with groundwater and migrate.

The goal of the investigation is to determine the direction of that groundwater, and whether it is flowing into the Gowanus Canal, which was named a Superfund site in March, a testament to its status as one of the nation’s most-polluted waterways.

Christos Tsiamis, the EPA’s project manager, said that 60 to 70 20- to 50-foot wells are to be planted in and around the canal, at a cost not yet available at press time.

“The wells will be installed for the groundwater study, and we will also be attempting to track pollutants,” he said. “The two are interrelated.”

If groundwater from the park is fouling the canal, the next step will be to develop a plan to stop it. “We need to be sure we cut off that flow,” said Beth Totman, an EPA spokeswoman.

The wells, which do not poke above ground level, are not considered a danger. A Parks Department spokesman said the agency was not advised of “any risks or hazards.”

The collection phase of the work will be done by August, according to the EPA, and other locations include the Hamilton Avenue Asphalt Plant and the old Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station at Smith and Ninth streets.

The wells are being installed by National Grid, which recently reached an agreement with the EPA to do the work. By corporate lineage, the energy giant is on the hook for paying for part of the clean-up, which will cost at least $400 million and span at least the next 10 years.

Monitoring wells are not uncommon in and around the playground, as National Grid was ordered to install wells over the past few years by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Tsiamis noted.

The playground is adjacent to the recently famous Douglass-Degraw Pool, which the city said it would close this summer to save $200,000, prompting outrage and protest.

“I think the whole neighborhood deserves better,” said area resident Laurie Blyer.

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