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Hudson River Health: Better But Still Sketchy

The health of the Hudson has come a long way since 1976 when the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) banned commercial fishing of striped bass in the lower Hudson River. On a summer weekend you can see people fishing at Nyack Beach State Park and other locations and even a few brave souls swimming in the river. But it begs the question — safer, yes…but is it safe enough?

Riverkeeper and Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) have released a report that says there are reoccurring “hot spots” of pollution — especially after heavy rain storms — which can make the Hudson unsanitary. A blog post by LDEO says the Hudson was unsafe to swim about 25 percent of the time between 2006 and 2010.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says swimming is safe north of the Bronx to Columbia County. But most municipalities do not regularly test their stretch of river for pollution; and those that do rarely release the results quickly. In New York City, test results come out years later, averaged across the season, masking extreme events. Not so helpful, as Lamont-Doherty scientist Andrew Juhl put it in Huffington Post this week. ‘€œYou can find out three years after you were in the water, if that summer, the average indicator of contamination was okay,’€ he said. The city Department of Environmental Protection is apparently reconsidering its stance. An official told DNAinfo on Wednesday that test results will soon be put online regularly. That’s too late for the thousands of triathletes who dove into the Hudson last Sunday, but potentially helpful information for next year.

The Riverkeeper – Lamont Report says Sparkill Creek showed ‘€œunacceptable’€ levels of contamination 86 percent of the time and the Tarrytown Marina was flagged 56 percent of the time it was sampled.

On Thursday, Westchester County closed two beaches near Ossining after a fallen tree caused a break in an 18-inch sewer main, discharging about 1.5 million gallons a day of sewage into Killbrook Creek about a quarter mile from the Hudson River.

There’s more than just pollution in the water. The EPA says that PCBs, a cancer-causing chemical released into the river near Albany by GE  between 1947 and 1977, are still a health risk:

For 25 years, concerns about PCBs in Hudson River fish have prompted New York State to issue health advisories that recommend limits on eating fish from the river. People should protect themselves by following state fish consumption advisories. Information is available from the New York State Department of Health. Women of childbearing age and children under age 15 should not eat any fish from the Hudson River. No one should eat fish caught between the Federal Dam at Troy and Hudson Falls.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s complete blog post with links to the full report are available at LDEO’s State Of The Planet blog.

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