Competitors in Saturday's Ironman triathlon in Manhattan already have to tackle a combined 140.6 miles of swimming, bicycling and running. Now they may have an additional challenge: several million gallons of raw sewage in the Hudson River.
The Westchester County Department of Environmental Facilities began the controlled discharge into the Hudson River near Sleepy Hollow Thursday at 7:15 a.m., while workers repaired a broken sewer line in Tarrytown, and hoped to stem the flow by Friday morning, county officials said.
Race officials say they'll decide Friday whether to cancel the 2012 Ironman U.S. Championship's 2.4-mile swimming leg, which would begin on a barge off the river's western shore 15 miles south of the waste release point and finish at the foot of the George Washington Bridge.
Organizers said they conducted water sampling Thursday morning and would also be consulting with environmental officials in New York City.
"It's not like me and my staff are in the office with a home chemistry set trying to figure this out," Ironman race organizer John Korff said. "We'll err on the side of safety for the athletes."
The sewage is chlorinated, but the chemical doesn't completely prevent the risk posed to swimmers.
"It helps, but it's not going to eliminate the threat of bacterial contamination," said John Cronin, a senior fellow for environmental affairs at Pace University's Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, who also led the nonprofit Hudson Riverkeeper organization for 17 years. "Raw sewage is still raw sewage."
But based on the volume of the release, and on past sampling, it's unlikely the discharge will affect the race, according to John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's boat captain and water quality program manager.
Of greater concern, he said, are thunderstorms forecast for Friday -- the deluge from which could overwhelm sewage treatment systems in the area.
"The real issue is the rain," Lipscomb said, from his boat on the Hudson.
For Mark Van Nostrand, a Long Islander competing in the race to raise money for Alzheimer's research, the discharge was unwelcome news.
Speaking from the city, where he'd just completed registration, Van Nostrand, 54, of East Setauket, said that the swim was his favorite leg of the event, and he hopes it won't be scrubbed from the race program.
"I don't want to swim in water that's polluted, but I've swum in the Hudson before," he said. "If they say it's OK, I'll swim."