Hurricane Sandy blows sewage, trash, industrial waste into Hudson River

Cleanup begins in the parking lot of the

Cleanup begins in the parking lot of the River Club restaurant in Nyack after Hurricane Sandy caused property damage and flooding along the Hudson River. (Oct. 30, 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

Monster tidal surges whipped up by Hurricane Sandy have polluted the Hudson River with a filthy mix of raw sewage, toxic industrial waste and trash that has made boating, swimming and the use of riverfront parks dangerous.

Since Monday's storm, three Westchester County sewage treatment facilities have been shut down -- a pump station in Croton-on-Hudson, a Yonkers pump station and a Yonkers wastewaster plant -- prompting Westchester officials to warn swimmers, boaters, kayakers and surfers to stay out of the river.

The sites are among two dozen wastewater treatment facilities in New York State that have either flooded or directly released overflow into the Hudson in the aftermath of the hurricane.


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Even worse than the biological waste is the untrackable influx of garbage swept into the river as powerful waves rolled over riverfront homes and businesses, according to Riverkeeper, the Ossining environmental group.

"The river was not the Garden of Eden before the storm," said John Lipscomb, who captains the organization's patrol boat. "But the storm caused a tremendous release of contamination. It's clear that the river took a terrific beating."

In the hours immediately after Sandy hit, Lipscomb spotted everything from lawn chairs to propane tanks, rubber tires and water bottles floating downstream. With tidal waves washing over industrial sites and even carrying away cars and machinery, the river also took in a toxic mix of chemicals, which are invisible.

"Only oil floats on the surface," Lipscomb explained. "Petroleum waste floats to the top and has a visible sheen."

Since the Hudson River is an estuary - a salty tidal arm of the Atlantic Ocean - all of the garbage washed into the river is washing down to New York Harbor but then, borne by incoming tide, back up the river toward Albany, a cycle that repeats every 12 hours, with the tidal changes.

Before Sandy hit, Riverkeeper's water quality-sampling program showed that the "main stem of the Hudson is generally pretty good in dry weather, and impacted during and after rain events," said Phillip Musegaas, the organizations's Hudson River program director.

He said the raw sewage overflows were a short-term issue compared to the long-term problem of assessing damage caused by "very large amounts of toxic materials that have washed into the river."

The range of what was released is mind-boggling, Musegaas said, adding, "Imagine all the stuff in those New York City subway tunnels that should not be in water, all the underground machinery that flooded, lubricating oil from machines."

The public can report oil spills or other active pollution from the storm by calling the DEC spill hotline at 800-457-7362. Riverkeeper is also tracking spills and can be reached through its website at riverkeeper.org.

The problems at the treatment facilities began on Monday night, in Yonkers, at the height of the hurricane. Flooding shut down the Yonkers wastewater treatment plant at 8:45 pm. and the north Yonkers pump station at 10:50 p.m. At that point, both facilities started dumping raw sewage into the river.

On Tuesday at 10:05 a.m., Westchester officials shut down the Crotonville Pump Station due to tidal flooding. That sent untreated sewage flowing into the Hudson via the Croton River on the Croton-Ossining border.

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