Representatives from environmental non-profit group Riverkeeper said much of the 155-mile-long Hudson River contains sewage contamination on Tuesday.
Riverkeeper released the study at a press conference to educate the public about contamination in the water that can potentially cause disease.
“They’re asking ‘if I swim, will I get sick?’” boat Captain John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper revealed. “The public really wants to know if it’s safe to swim, and at this time, they deserve to know.”
From 2006 to 2010, Lipscomb said he traveled about 6,000 miles of the Hudson each year collecting samples for a study measuring water quality in the river.
Researchers evaluated 75 locations from New York Harbor to above the Troy dam, concluding 21 percent of their samples failed to meet swimming guidelines by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Of all U.S. beaches, on average, only 7 percent of samples failed.
“Nearly all locations have intermittent sewage contamination,” said Dr. Andrew Juhl of Columbia University, who participated in the study.
Westchester County specifically was found to have four of the best sites in the study, including the beach at Croton Point Park. It also had three of the worst, including the marina in Tarrytown. Ossining wasn’t one of the worst, but 10 percent of water samples there were of an unacceptable quality, the study says.
One of Riverkeeper’s most significant discoveries was that the water quality varied between even two relatively close locations.
“It’s so local that you can’t use data from Tarrytown to talk about water quality in Nyack. You can’t use data from Tarrytown to talk about water quality in Ossining,” Lipscomb explained.
There is no single source contributing to the contamination, though. Sewage dumped into the river is one factor, but researchers also found the rate of unacceptable water quality increased dramatically during or after rainfall.
“Many of those plants do a very good job at treating the sewage that comes into the plant,” Dr. Juhl said. “Sometimes the water coming out of the plant is better quality than the river it’s flowing into.”
However, the sewage treatment plant in Harlem that dumped 200 million gallons of untreated sewage into the water is an exception. New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat, of the 31st district, represents that area of Manhattan and was concerned enough to attend the Riverkeeper press conference in Croton. He wondered why the message of a rain delay for a Yankee game is broadcast across all social media, yet no such warnings are used to inform the public about poor water quality in the Hudson.
“This is a very revealing report,” Espaillat said. “One that I think we should use as a tool to move forward and together develop and codify a notification system that will keep us all safe.”
The State Senate is expected to hold formal hearings to review the recent sewage plant accident and to discuss the lack of a notification system, he said. Assemblymember Thomas Abinanti, of New York’s 92nd district, also spoke at the press conference. He said all levels of government are responsible to work toward cleaner water.
The body of water that spurred the environmental movement in the 1960s is still part of the national debate when it comes pollution. Concern over the body of water led New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection to begin testing the water in the Hudson. The DEP posts its findings in an annual report, which are typically released one to two years after collection, Riverkeeper’s study said.
“What we’d like to see in the Hudson River is frequent monitoring and the best practice is once-a-week water-quality-monitoring,” said Tracy Brown, who wrote the study. “Then people monitoring the beaches can then forecast water quality.”
This study costs a little more than $75,000 per year, but he said it is worth the investment.
It opens up debate over much more than just warning people of contaminated water, Riverkeeper’s President Paul Gallay said.
“If we enforce clean water laws and invest in water quality infrastructure and test the water so people are out there recreating safely, this recreational Renaissance along the Hudson River is going to continue to gain strength,” Gallay said. “If we fail to take care of the river, we’ll lose the gains we’ve made and the economic benefits that go along with them.”