The record breaking heat wasn’t the only thing making NYC rather miserable last week. A fire breakout at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem caused more than 360 million gallons of raw sewage to spew out into the Hudson River. Luckily, for New Yorkers, the DEP was able to have the plant’s engines up and running on Friday night, but health advisories remain in effect for several waterfront neighborhoods.
“People think sewage is going to smell,” said Captain John Lipscomb in an interview with the New York Times. “But this is feces and bathwater and dishwashing water. Part of what’s coming out is beauty care products.”
Lipscomb commands the 36-foot R. Ian Fletcher for Riverkeeper, a clean water advocacy group based in NY. Lipscom and Gregory D. O’Mullen, an assistant professor of environmental microbiology at Queens College, are collecting water samples to test for the bacterium enterococcus, which lives in the intestines of humans and animals.
Testing showed that since the sewage crisis, levels of the bacterium reached well into the thousands, per 100 milliliters of water. This is significantly higher than the federal safety standard of 104 per 100 milliliters, and would require closing of beaches and other water fronts.
Health advisories remain in effect for South, Midland and Cedar Grove Beaches in Staten Island, and Sea Gate in Brooklyn, but they should be lifted soon. Lipscomb said that the levels near the plant were the highest he had seen, but previous testing had shown more widespread sewage contamination along the Hudson after rains, thanks to NYC infamous problem with combine sewer overflow.
The sewage will natural decompose in a few days, but Lipscomb expressed concern for the health of the people who came in contact with the water. He also said we need a better notification system for accidents like this to make sure people do not go in the water. Plus, there are objects, like condoms, that are flushed down the toilet that just become trash in the river because of CSO. Lipscomb said that condoms are proof of a direct link between the toilet and our waterways.