Hudson haunted by sewage, PCBs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Environment New York

Contact: Nicole Follmann, 212-575-5343, [email protected]         

New York , NY— In anticipation of Halloween, Environment New York unveiled the thirteen scariest facts about New York waterways showing that a terrifying concoction of PCBs, sewage, and other pollutants have made waterways like the Hudson ghosts of their former selves.

“Halloween is the season to be scared, but New Yorkers shouldn’t have to be afraid of swimming in, fishing in, and drinking our water,” said Environment New York’s Nicole Follmann. “Major polluters like Anheuser-Busch dump toxic chemicals into the Oswego River, and combined sewer overflows spew hazardous waste into New York Harbor, turning it into a potion of pollution.”

In its new, frightening fact sheet, Environment New York found that:


1. New York’s beaches are some of the most polluted in the country due to runoff pollution. Swimming in contaminated water can cause a variety of diseases and infections, including skin rashes, hepatitis and others. Certain strands of animal E. coli that can be found in untreated water can also transfer pathogens to humans.


2. On October 9th, a federal court put a stay on the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, putting at least 55% of New York’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands nationwide at risk of pollution and destruction.


3. Without the Clean Water Rule, drinking water sources for over 1 in 3 Americans are vulnerable to pollution. That includes the drinking water for more than half of all New Yorkers.


4. General Electric plants in Washington County deposited an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson from 1947 and 1977. 4 When these toxic chemicals move through food chains, they become concentrated in fish. For much of the Hudson, New York State’s Health Department recommends that children and women of child-bearing age eat no fish and advises other people to limit their fish consumption.


5. Combined sewers carry both sewage and stormwater in the same pipes, and when rain or snowmelt overwhelms wastewater treatment plant or pipe capacity, untreated sewage will overflow into waterways to prevent treatment plant failures.


6. Over 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and untreated stormwater flow into New York Harbor annually.


7. In addition to 190 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants, 850 other permits allow discharges of sewage or other wastewater into the Hudson River Estuary watershed from private, commercial or institutional facilities. More than 50 of these private, commercial or institutional facilities have had effluent violations in the past three years. Many of the plants designed to treat sewage do not disinfect effluent before discharge, allowing the ongoing discharge of potentially harmful microbes.


8. The Hudson River is polluted with high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, likely due to untreated wastewater. The strongest strains of bacteria could be dangerous to people with weak immune systems.


9. Overall, 99% of tributary sites sampled by Riverkeeper, and 92% of New York City water access points sampled by community scientists failed to meet EPA criteria for safe swimming in 2014.


10. Anheuser-Busch is one of the top chemical polluters in the state of New York. The plant in Baldwinsville, NY, poured 1,396,149 pounds of toxic releases into the Oswego River in 2012.


11. The Hudson River is among the top 50 waterways in the U.S. for toxic releases, including developmental, reproductive, and cancer causing toxins, making New York’s waterways the 15th most polluted in the country, with 5,303,190 pounds of toxic releases in total in 2012.


12. There have been 126 reports of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in 87 New York lakes and streams within the first 10 months of 2015. The bacteria’s toxic algae blooms frequently lead to beach closures, loss of fish and wildlife and even human illnesses. These blooms will continue without mitigation efforts, specifically those to curb phosphorus runoff, a prominent nutrient in manure.


13. Despite the recent historic ban on high-volume fracking, New York still has a fracking waste problem. More than 510,000 tons and 23,000 barrels – and counting – of waste from oil and gas extraction operations in neighboring Pennsylvania have been shipped to New York landfills for disposal. Leachate from those landfills is then sent to nearby wastewater treatment facilities. And New York State continues to allow the use of certain kinds of waste from low-volume oil and gas extraction on our roads for de-icing and dust control.


To protect New York’s wetlands and beloved waterways, Environment New York called on Congress to oppose any attacks on clean water.

At the end of the summer, Environment New York celebrated as the U.S. EPA’s Clean Water Rule finally went into effect, restoring Clean Water Act protections to waterways nationwide, including over 28,000 miles of waterways in New York and the drinking water for more than 11 million New Yorkers. This was the biggest step forward for clean water in a decade.

Unfortunately, the Clean Water Rule is now under attack in both federal courts and the United States Congress. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently issued a stay on the rule, halting EPA enforcement until it determines jurisdiction.

Julie Welch from Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) joined Environment New York in supporting the need to support the Clean Water Rule. “The recent Clean Water Rule stay will prevent us from realizing a thriving waterfront where children can splash, boats can kayak, birds can wade and fish are plentiful. The streams, creeks, and wetlands included in the Clean Water Rule are vital resources in our ecosystem and act as essential buffers against flooding during storms. The health of our waterways depends on the streams and wetlands protected by the Clean Water Rule,” said Welch.

“Halloween witches and ghosts should be should be scary. New York waterways shouldn’t be, ” added Follmann. “We urge Senator Schumer to continue being a champion for clean water so that we can give New York waters the Halloween treat it they deserve: protection from pollution.”



Environment New York is a statewide, citizen-funded environmental organization working to protect clean air, clean water, and open spaces.