Monday, July 29, 2013

The Hudson River is Not Safe and Clean

From Riverkeepers Report
Publicity material for the recent 2013 New York City Triathlon that includes a 1,500 meter swim in the Hudson River says: “Hudson is safe and clean. Water quality testing is done regularly. No vaccines, no shots, no panic attacks necessary. Calm down.” Along the 155-mile-long Hudson River Estuary only nine locations north of New York City are currently tested for sewage by local authorities, and only four locations are recognized as official swimming areas. This is far from adequate to assure that the Hudson is safe and clean. In a study published July 17, 2013 in the Journal of Water and Health, scientists at Columbia University's Earth Institute document widespread antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Hudson River. The antibiotic-resistant bacteria found include potentially pathogenic strains of the genera Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Proteus and Escherichia.

Disease-causing microbes have long been found in the Hudson River by the Riverkeeper’s annual water quality studies; however, now researchers have documented antibiotic-resistant strains in specific spots, from the Tappan Zee Bridge at the top of Manhattan to the lower end of the island. The microbes identified are resistant to ampicillin and tetracycline, drugs commonly used to treat ear infections, pneumonia, salmonella and other ailments. The scientists performed several rounds of sampling at 10 locations along the Hudson, and found microbes resistant to ampicillin 84 % of the time and resistant to tetracycline 38 % of the time.

Hudson River water quality studies are performed each year by the Riverkeepers organization. Each year they sample 74 Hudson River locations, once a month, from May through October. Their sample results have shown that microbe counts go up after heavy rains, when raw sewage is commonly diverted into the river by the overflowing combined sewer system. Around 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and rainwater are released each year into the Hudson by wastewater treatment plants that cannot process the combined volume of water from the stormwater system and sewage system during heavy rains. Lacking the capacity to treat or store the volume of water the sewage-treatment plants are forced to divert the combined sewage and stormwater into the river.

Even though the Hudson is much cleaner than it was back in the 1970’s when I was a river sampler for another organization, the river still suffers from sewage-indicator bacteria. I would not recommend swimming in the Hudson in the days after any rainstorm. It is not just a matter of released sewage. Drug resistant bacteria previously only a problem in hospital populations have spread into the larger community. Rivers can incubate bacteria, allowing them to transfer their drug-resistant genes to normal bacteria according to Dr. Ronald J. Ash, a microbiologist and former professor at Washburn University, and lead author of the 2002 research paper on the topic. The portions of the Hudson with the most sewage-indicator bacteria also generally contained the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The worst area was Flushing Bay, near LaGuardia Airport, followed by Newtown Creek, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens; and sewage outfall pipes near Piermont Pier in Rockland County, N.Y.; West 125th Street in Manhattan; and Yonkers, in Westchester County, N.Y.

Billions of dollars would be necessary to separate the combined storm and sanitary sewer systems along the 155-miles of the Hudson River Estuary. New York City is planning on implementing Low Impact Development (LID) strategies to try to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff. The City plans to spend $187 million to replace some parking lots and city streets with porous pavement, and to plant more vegetation on rooftops and other impervious surfaces to reduce runoff during rain events. An additional $2.4 billion will be spent on infrastructure to eliminate 1.5 billion gallons of combined sewer runoff by 2030. Still, without adequate storage within the sewer system contamination of the river and flood waters during storms will persist and threaten community health.

Peopled infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria tend to shed the bacteria from the nose, feces, and skin; therefore, the bacteria can end up in municipal wastewater streams after being washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet and spread in ways beyond direct contact. Several scientists led by researchers at the University Of Maryland School Of Public Health, performed a study that was published last November showing that it is possible that municipal waste­water could be a reservoir of drug resistant micro-­organisms. The scientists tested water entering and leaving four unnamed waste water treatment plants, WWTPs. The University of Maryland scientists found, that waste water that is not fully treated with chlorine could potentially be releasing disease causing bacteria into the environment. The odds of samples testing positive for disease causing bacteria decreased as treatment progressed, and the study makes clear the need to upgrade all waste water treatment plants to advanced waste water treatment plants that use disinfection with chlorine and to eliminate the storm related untreated releases of dilute sewage by our older cities combined sewer systems.

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