The front-runners in the first Ironman U.S. Championship in New York and New Jersey under way Saturday were entering the final portion of the triathlon early Saturday afternoon -- the 26.2 mile marathon run ending at Riverside Park in Manhattan.
More than 2,500 swimmers took to the Hudson River Saturday morning for the competition after the waters were declared safe once again Friday in the wake of a 3.4 million-gallon raw sewage spill.
The Westchester County Department of Health announced Friday afternoon that a health advisory warning people to stay out of the river would be lifted later in the day, at 11 p.m.
Race organizers followed suit, saying that water testing declared the affected parts of the Hudson River safe for the 2.4-mile swim portion of the competition, slated to take place about 15 miles downriver from the main waste release point. Sewage was redirected to the Hudson River Thursday morning in response to a broken pipeline.
"Our team worked diligently with local environmental and health departments to monitor and thoroughly test the water," race organizers said in a written statement. "The New York City Department of Environmental Protection tested the water following the break and the reports show the water is safe for swimming."
Saturday's race -- the first Ironman competition to be held in the New York City area -- will draw about 2,500 participants from around the world, organizers said.
The 2012 Ironman race is scheduled to include the Hudson River swim, a 112-mile bike ride on the Palisades Parkway in Bergen and Rockland counties and a 26.2-mile run from Fort Lee, N.J., to Riverside Park in Manhattan.
As of Friday evening, an advisory remained in effect in Westchester for south of Croton Point Park and in Rockland for south of Rockland State Park. The Westchester County Department of Health said people should avoid going near or touching the waters until Saturday.
Repair work on the broken portion of the county-owned line in Sleepy Hollow was completed at 4 a.m. Friday, said state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach.
When it first broke late Wednesday night, the county health department issued a warning in advance advising boaters, swimmers and others to stay out of the Hudson River, where sewage was redirected starting at 7:15 a.m. Thursday.
It typically takes about 24 hours for pollution in the river to dissipate once the line is repaired, said Heather McGill, spokeswoman for the Westchester health department.
Though the sewage discharge was chlorinated, it contains raw human waste and household chemicals.
Coming into direct contact with wastewater could result in gastrointestinal discomfort, fever, rash, or in extreme cases, diseases such as hepatitis, said Steve Fleischli, acting director of the water program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Any sort of incidental contact with sewage can be harmful to human health," Fleischli said.
Environmentalists were dismayed by the release of the sewage at Sleepy Hollow and Yonkers.
"Unfortunately, this is the worst time of year to have this occur from a public health and recreational perspective," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment. "We have to stop using waterways as a dumping ground for sewage."