State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MPA Students Tour Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

View of the Gowanus Canal

On Thursday, June 28, the students in the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program took a field trip to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. The trip was organized and led by Lamont Associate Research Professor Juerg Matter and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, Michael Musso who teach Environmental Chemistry and Risk Assessment and Environmental Toxicology respectively during the program’s summer semester.

A walking tour of the Gowanus area was led by three members of the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), a community organization that aims to preserve the history and heritage of the Gowanus area in South Brooklyn, namely by creating an eco-safe and healthy Gowanus Canal corridor and watershed which includes restoration of the area’s natural environment.

“As an international student, and as someone new to New York, I found it really interesting to visit a U.S. Superfund site and to witness firsthand the ongoing impact of historical waste mis-management at a very local level,” said current ESP student Olivia Kemp. “Our tour guide had lived by the canal for 35 years and the emotion and insight she shared with us brought about a whole new level of understanding of the impacts of waste pollution in urban areas and added a more ‘human’ element to the science we’ve been studying this semester.”

The tour kicked off at President Street and continued to the industrial zoned area of the neighborhood, where students were able to see the canal itself, in addition to the general effects of sewage flow at the canal head. Students then walked to the Union Street Bridge for a better view of the canal and processed to the Carroll Street Bridge to discuss sewer shed issues and development pressures.

“The field trip out to the Gowanus Canal provided us all with a tangible reminder that the concepts we’re learning in the classroom have an urgent need for application in urban environments.  It also gave us a close-up look at the challenges to effecting change: between the various stakeholders, scientific research, and fluctuating environmental conditions, we don’t exactly have a straightforward path ahead of us where fixing infrastructure is concerned,” said Kendall Singleton, a current ESP student. “Our ability to solve these types of problems is going to require a great deal of creative thinking that takes these and other issues into account, and that’s where the interdisciplinary nature of the ESP program will serve us particularly well.”

ESP students engage in a question and answer session with their FROGG tour guide.

The tour guides also focused on certain landmarks of the industrial neighborhood, including old warehouses that are being put back into use for current community needs. Students also visited the area’s community garden and canoe club.

“I thought the Canal trip was a great addition to the Summer Science course work,” stated ESP faculty member, Michael Musso. “The Guides from FROGG spoke from a neighborhood perspective about the many, many facets of the Superfund site – namely how history, development, storm water management, and environmental contamination present unique challenges.  I believe the students ‘got’ the storm water aspect by visual observations during the walk, as well as their sense of smell!”

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), in partnership with the Earth Institute. Throughout this one year program, students are immersed in courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. During the summer semester, students learn the fundamentals of environmental science, while the fall and spring semesters focus on teaching the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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