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Riverkeeper Responds to Westchester County Raw Sewage Release

The Riverkeeper patrol boat will be sampling from Tarrytown to Yonkers this afternoon in response to a sewer main break and subsequent sewage release into the Hudson River in Tarrytown and also at Yonkers.

Results from sampling will be available Friday afternoon and Riverkeeper will continue to investigate.

Westchester County detected a leak in its sewer system yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, August 8. At 7:15 a.m. Thursday , the County diverted sewage from the sewer main through a bypass pipe to the Hudson River at Tarrytown in order to free the primary main for repair. Although we do not know the exact volume of discharge, it is reasonable to assume that it is flowing at a rate of 3 million gallons per day because that is what the sewer main typically carries.

Some raw sewage may also be discharging into the Hudson in Yonkers because the primary sewer main runs inside the old Croton Aqueduct and there is a drainage point for the aqueduct, which drains into the Saw Mill River.

As a precautionary measure, the Westchester County Health Department advises the public to avoid contact with the Hudson from Croton Point Park to all points south until further notice.

While this sewage release was caused by an accident, sewage contamination occurs on a regular basis in this and other sections of the Hudson during rain events. These are chronic releases that which occur without notification to the public. If you look at our data for both Tarrytown and Yonkers, you will see that there are often “unacceptable” levels of fecal contamination. These result from rain water infiltration of sewer systems generally but because there has not been a “sewer main break” the public is not notified. This will change when new Sewage Right to Know Act—pushed for by Riverkeeper and signed into law today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo—takes effect in 2013. This law requires public notification of all known sewage releases from public sewer systems statewide, whether accidental or routine.

This release is an accident, and with a sewer system serving tens of thousands of people accidents are bound to happen. A similar event occurred in 2010, but in that case the Westchester County Health Department and the DEC were slow to notify the public. This time the public was notified immediately. We applaud their rapid and proactive public notification effort.

From 2006-2011, 24% of Riverkeeper’s water quality samples in the Hudson River — more than 2,000 samples from 74 sites – failed to meet Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for safe swimming. Most of the potentially unsafe water conditions detected through Riverkeeper’s research likely resulted from routine sewage releases, not accidents.

Finally, while accidents do happen, we should note that accidents seem to be happening more frequently with the Westchester sewer system. We need to step up maintenance and replacement of failing infrastructure before the accidents occur.

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