There’s a Man Purposely Swimming in the Toxic Gowanus Canal

April 22, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

On Wednesday afternoon, a 47-year-old man did the unthinkable: He plunged into the Gowanus Canal’s dark toxic cauldron of stagnant water, which is brewing with raw sewage, arsenic and gonorrhea, among a host of unknown substances. The man, Christopher Swain, entered the canal at Degraw and Bond Street just before 2 PM, from where he will head towards the Whole Foods at Third Avenue and 3rd Street for a press conference. He will then go back in the water to swim the rest of the canal, and hope to “bleach off” at the Bayside Fuel Oil Depot.

Though it may seem insane (it sort of is), the insanity has a purpose: to draw attention to the need for safe waterways and to question why we’ve allowed such a central location to get so polluted that we wouldn’t even want to touch it. “It isn’t meant to be a stunt, it’s just meant to be a swimmer imagining a day when everybody can swim it,” the swimmer told the Daily News. “I don’t think big changes happen unless someone is willing to put themselves on the line.”

The 1.8-mile stretch is regarded as one of the most polluted waterways in the country, and is “dangerous as hell,” to quote Popular Science writer Dan Nosowitz, who once attempted to find out what would happen if someone were to drink water from the canal (it was more of a thought experiment, since the canal is basically a deadly abyss). Swain wasn’t worried about the water’s toxicity, however, because his skin was coated with a water barrier and he had goggles and ear plugs.

Swain is an experienced swimmer, having traversed several rivers including the Hudson, to draw attention to the need for cleaner, safer water. “I don’t ever worry about being in the water,” he said to reporters ahead of the swim. “I have a lot of training and experience and I love the water.” Though even the EPA has warned against his endeavor, Swain doesn’t anticipate any major issues. He isn’t afraid of going the way of Sludgie the whale, and we hope he’s right. It’ll all be over soon, so stay tuned for updates.


UPDATE: Swain emerged from the canal at the Whole Foods, as planned, but has announced that due to likelihood of a storm and the tide going out, conditions are making it too dangerous to continue. When asked for the “most surprising thing” he tasted, he said, “That green smoothie taste was a little weird…the poop was expected.”

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)