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Massive Sewage Spill in NYC

A catastrophic fire at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant on the upper westside of Manhattan last Wednesday, July 20th, led to a temporary plant shutdown and the dumping of millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The untreated sewage flowed into the water from numerous pipes along the shoreline of Manhattan.

Despite the huge volume of wastewater – an estimated 120 million gallons a day for three days – many city residents were unaware of the spill, or learned of it too late to avoid contact with the contaminated water.

Swimmers in the park just north of the plant on 7/21

We approached them in the patrol boat and warned them

The morning after the fire Riverkeeper conducted the first of three water quality sampling runs in the waters around Manhattan Island, including New York Harbor and sites as far north as the Tappan Zee Bridge.

On Thursday the 21st, the first full day of the sewage discharge, we found extremely high levels of sewage contamination along the west shore of Manhattan, which at the time of sampling, did not extend north to Yonkers or south of the Battery. Sewage contamination was lower in the middle of the river, and still lower on the New Jersey side. In fact, on the New Jersey side, Enterococcus levels were “acceptable” per EPA guidelines.

On Friday the 22nd our sampling indicated similar results, with the highest contamination area being the west side of Manhattan. All sampling occurred before the North River Plant resumed partial operation on the evening of Friday, 7/22. It’s important to note that as of Friday evening, although the contamination pattern was similar and while contamination levels were lower than on the first day of sampling, some areas along the Manhattan shoreline were still very contaminated.

We sampled again today, Monday the 25th. An update with additional data will be posted soon.

In the meantime for more information on the spill:

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