Blogs > Water Quality > Research IDs high levels of pharmaceuticals in the Hudson. Here’s what we can do about it

Research IDs high levels of pharmaceuticals in the Hudson. Here’s what we can do about it


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New research supported by Riverkeeper highlights the large numbers of pharmaceuticals found in the Hudson River, and identifies the wastewater treatment plants that process our sewage as the most important sources.

At least 90 municipal wastewater treatment plants discharge to the Hudson River or its tributaries, including 44 that discharge directly to the estuary between the Capital District and Yonkers. During dry conditions, up to 11% of the flow of the Hudson is made up of treated wastewater from these plants.

The study also points to the importance of protecting Hudson River tributaries, such as the Catskill, Esopus and Stockport Creeks, that may provide a buffer against pollution upstream by contributing relatively clean water to the estuary.

The study, published in the scientific journal Water Research, was conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and supported by Riverkeeper and our scientific partners at CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. (Download the study or read Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s excellent summary.)

The EPA analyzed samples Riverkeeper gathered in 2016 from our patrol boat at dozens of the longterm monitoring sites in the Hudson River Estuary that we have tested for a decade. In these samples, 16 pharmaceuticals were measured, along with sucralose (the artificial sweetener) and caffeine, which proved to be promising tracers for this type of pollution.

In addition to supporting new science on the topic of unregulated contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, Riverkeeper is working on two projects to address issues raised by the new research:

1. The Drug Take-Back Act 

Riverkeeper and a coalition of environmental, health and product stewardship organizations are supporting a bill being considered by the New York State Legislature that would help to prevent the flushing of unused drugs, through a program funded by the pharmaceuticals industry. The Drug Take-Back Act (S. 7353 / A. 9576) is sponsored in the Senate by Kemp Hannon, chair of the Senate Health Committee, and in the Assembly by Aileen M. Gunther, who represents part of the Hudson River watershed.

Tell your representatives in the New York State Senate and Assembly that you support the Drug Take-Back Act. (Click the links to identify your Senator and Assembly member, and their contact information.)

2. Hudson River drinking water protection initiative

Riverkeeper will release on Thursday a report outlining recommendations for the seven communities that rely on the Hudson River for drinking water. The report, authored by the Center for Watershed Protection and commissioned by Riverkeeper, recommends priority actions to protect the drinking water supply for 100,000 people.

These communities, banded together and focused on water quality, will be able to deal with any threat to drinking water quality.

The analysis is the first to use Riverkeeper’s new “Drinking Source Water Protection Scorecard,” a tool available online to help communities across New York State assess their drinking water supplies. Riverkeeper developed the Scorecard after analyzing the failure to adequately protect the City of Newburgh’s public drinking water supply, resulting in a contamination crisis and the discovery of the toxic chemical PFOS in the water supply.

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