The Dirty Hudson

by Ann Shum on April 16, 2014

The Brave souls who kayak amongst the bacteria in the Hudson.

The Brave souls who kayak amongst the bacteria in the Hudson.

Have you ever taken a good look at the Hudson River? If you’re not too familiar with it, you’re probably imagining beautiful blue waves and clear water.

Sadly, that’s never the case.



I went kayaking in the Hudson last summer and never had I ever been so disgusted with the contents of water in my life. There I was at Pier 72, excited, and nervous for my first time kayaking. To my surprise the water was nothing like I imagined.

The water was dark, murky, and cluttered. There was trash everywhere; the boat was surrounded by garbage once it hit the water. I was afraid of contracting some sort of disease just from sitting in the boat on top of it.

It was my first time kayaking, and also the most traumatizing. Okay, maybe not traumatizing, probably more along the lines of disgusting.

Dirty water is the greatest health risk in the world today. Water is so essential to our lives that pollution should be a more prevalent concern.

Water pollution is can be categorized as point sources or nonpoint sources. Point sources are pollutants that enter waterways from well defined locations like pipes, from factories, or from places like sewage plants. Nonpoint sources are those that run off or seep into water from broad areas of land. Examples of nonpoint sources include runoff from agricultural lands, construction activities, or urban street runoff.

The Hudson River itself is one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S. In fact it has been ranked the 33rd most polluted body of water in the U.S. That in itself should be pretty alarming to us all. In 2013, the NY Daily News reported that the Hudson River was contaminated with resistant bacteria from untreated sewage. The bacteria was dangerous for people with weak immune system because they were resistant to common drugs. To contract the bacteria you’d have to drink the water or dip an open wound in it, but for such bacteria to even be around is alarming.

A lot of the pollution in the Hudson comes from runoff. The rain pushes automotive fluids, fertilizers, soil, and trash into the water frequently. You honestly can’t even be surprised when you see plastic bottles floating in the river, pollution takes place on land as often as it does in water. Most of the time it is litter that gets washed into the river anyway. Guess we can’t really complain about the way the Hudson looks if we contribute so much of the waste that gets dumped into it on a daily basis. (Let’s please try to keep littering to a minimum, it’s just going to end up in the water!)


Aside from runoff, a lot of the pollutants in the Hudson River come from industries. GE contaminated over 200 miles of the Hudson River. The company dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBS into it between 1947 and 1977. PCBS are polychlorinated Biphenyls and have been linked to cancer and low birth weights. They are consumed by fish in the water and then consumed by humans. Pregnant women especially should stay away from eating fish from the Hudson, especially since that water looks too contaminated for any form of consumption.

There have been lawsuits in efforts to get GE to clean up the mess its made, however those efforts seem like lost causes at this point. Beginning in 2009, GE arranged for dredging to help clear the PCBs in the Hudson. The process only removed about 10% of the PCBs and phase 2 has yet to start in the clean up. (Dredging means to remove material from the bottom of bodies of water, it is usually necessary to lessen the sediment buildup.)

The Clean Water Act put in place in 1972 was supposed to reduce the amount of water pollution everywhere. However, even though it limited the amount of industrial discharge that was allowed in the water, there were still ways to get around it. Industries were allowed to buy permits if they were going to discharge any point sources into the waters.

Unfortunately, the Act does not reduce the water pollution significantly, especially not in the Hudson since industries like GE were involved.

Honestly, water pollution is not something that is frequently on my mind. But ever since I tried to go kayaking… It is causing me a bit of concern.

I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be going back.

At least, not until the water is a little less murky and not crawling with antibiotic resistant bacteria.



Nadakavukaren, Anne. Our Global Environment: A Health Perspective. 7th ed. Long Grove: Waveland, 2011.



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