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Riverkeeper kicks off water sampling season with pharmaceuticals research

First sample of 2017 season

Carol Knudson of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory grabs the first sample of the 2017 season from the Riverkeeper patrol boat on April 4, 2017. (Photo by John Lipscomb / Riverkeeper)
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Riverkeeper will gather water samples from New York Harbor to the Capital District this week, with a special early patrol timed to gather water samples after rain.

Carol Knudson of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory grabs the first sample of the 2017 season from the Riverkeeper patrol boat on April 4, 2017. (Photo by John Lipscomb / Riverkeeper)

The sampling will support a joint research project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, CUNY Queens College and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Last year, Riverkeeper gathered samples for analysis of pharmaceuticals microbial DNA and other measures of water quality throughout the Hudson River Estuary in dry weather. This week’s sampling event will gather similar samples after rain.

The goal is to ultimately to develop new ways to measure pharmaceuticals and other contaminants derived from wastewater, and to understand various impacts of wastewater on the Hudson River Estuary and our use of it for recreation and drinking water. Just as we measure specific bacteria to indicate the presence of pathogens, we need reliable ways to measure for the presence of pharmaceuticals and other compounds in the water.

Carol Knudson processes the first sample of the 2017 season aboard the Riverkeeper patrol boat. (Photo by John Lipscomb / Riverkeeper)

Separate research by Cornell University, partnered with Riverkeeper, has found dozens of pharmaceutical, pesticide and industrial compounds in the Hudson River Estuary and its tributaries, with greater pharmaceutical concentrations measured near sewage treatment plant outfalls. This suggests both that we excrete pharmaceuticals, which are passed through treatment processes designed to kill pathogens, not remove pharmaceutical compounds; and that flushing of unused medications is still common. Find ways to safely and responsibly dispose of unused medications in the Hudson River Watershed on Riverkeeper’s pharmaceuticals page.

This research is partially funded by New York Sea Grant – a federally supported program for which President Trump has proposed eliminating funding.

This research is helping to fill a global knowledge gap. As our friends at the Cary Institute recently reported, research on the ecological effects of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and industrial chemicals is “severely lacking” despite an explosion of global manufacture and use, particularly since 1970. While increased use of these synthetic chemicals has implications for the global environment on par with increased emissions of greenhouse gases and of release of nutrients, research into the issue is comparatively under-funded, and as a result, we know relatively little.

Riverkeeper’s patrol boat and our Water Quality Program’s community science projects in Hudson River tributaries and along shorelines will gather samples monthly or weekly from more than 400 locations in 2017. This provides a unique platform for research with a variety of partners.

Look for new reports on research we have supported, on this and other topics, throughout 2017.

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