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July 21, 2011


Farrell Sklerov (DEP) (718) 595-6600
Susan Craig/Chanel Caraway (DOHMH) (347) 396-4177  

Update on North River Wastewater Treatment Plant Fire and Impacts

Overview of Incident

The North River Wastewater Treatment Plant was taken offline yesterday afternoon following a four-alarm fire in the engine room that started at approximately 11:45 am. At approximately 5:15 pm yesterday, untreated wastewater started to be directly discharged into the Hudson River and continues at this time as the plant remains offline. The North River plant has been in operation since 1986 and treats on average 120 million gallons of wastewater a day from Manhattan’s west side above Bank Street and northern Manhattan.

Status of Plant Operations

DEP is working as quickly as possible to get the plant operational. DEP staff and contractors are inside the facility repairing equipment, assessing damage, and performing cleanup activities. The plant has been re-energized, which is the first step toward bringing it back online. The estimated time to bring the plant back online is still undetermined. In order to minimize the discharge of wastewater from the plant, DEP is performing some small “pump arounds”—pumping wastewater flow out of an 84-inch sewer at West 117th St. in Manhattan that normally flows to the plant and pumping into a 42-inch sewer at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 117th, which flows to the Wards Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. DEP is also applying chlorine to some sewer outfalls near the plant to reduce the bacteria in the untreated wastewater discharges.

Environmental, Health and Community Impacts

The New York City Health Department has issued beach pollution advisories for the following locations to take effect Friday, July 22, at 10 am through Monday, July 25:

  • South Beach in Staten Island
  • Midland Beach in Staten Island
  • Cedar Grove Beach in Staten Island
  • Sea Gate in Brooklyn

Water quality modeling indicates that these beaches have been potentially impacted by the untreated sewer discharges from the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Though the beaches are not closed, the New York City Department of Health does not recommend swimming and bathing until this advisory is lifted, especially for people with underlying medical conditions, or young or elderly people who may be more likely to get sick if beach water is swallowed. Signs will be placed at the beach entrances to alert the public of the risk. Alternative beaches, such as Coney Island Beach, Rockaway Beach, Orchard Beach, Manhattan Beach and Wolfe’s Pond Beach, remain open and unaffected based on current water quality modeling. Fifty four outdoor pools are open for swimming as well. Call 311 to find the pool nearest to you.

Additionally, based on recommendations from NYC Health, the Hudson River, the East River from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to Verrazano Bridge, the Harlem River and the Kill Van Kull to the Goethals Bridge will not be fit for recreational activities such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or any other water activity that would entail possible direct contact now through at least Sunday. Also, consuming fish caught from these areas is not recommended for anyone until the pollution advisory is resolved. It is recommended that individuals catch and release fish back into the water.

The New York City Police Department Harbor Unit will be patrolling near the plant to ensure boaters keep a proper distance. The city Parks Department is restricting access to the river at the 79th Street Boat Basin and placing signs prohibiting kayaking, canoeing and other recreational activities from all city boat launch sites along the Hudson River and other appropriate sites. The Hudson River Park Trust as well as the Battery Park City Authority are also installing similar signs at sites under their jurisdiction.

DEP and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene continue to take samples in the harbor and at permitted beaches that could potentially be impacted. For the most up-to-date information, go to the NYC Health website at www.nyc.gov/health, www.nyc.gov/dep, or call 311. Individuals can also receive proactive alerts by signing up through 311 for Notify NYC, the city’s official source for information about emergency events and important city services. Riverbank State Park, located atop the treatment plant, remains closed until further notice. Westchester County and New Jersey DEP are also performing water sampling and water flow modeling to determine any impacts on their rivers and beaches.

DEP will continue to provide routine updates on the status of the plant’s operations and public health impacts in collaboration with the Health Department.

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