Forget about waiting 30 minutes after you eat to go swimming. There is more important advice to follow this summer.
People need to wait up to 72 hours after it rains before going swimming in the ocean, estuary, or river in or near New York Harbor, including the northern Jersey Shore and south shore of Long Island.
The reason – local waters are often polluted with urban/suburban runoff, pet or domestic animal waste, trash and garbage, and raw sewage from stromdrain pipes that discharge directly into the water, and leaking water logged sewer pipes or antiquated sewage or wastewater treatment facilities. In some places, water quality after a rainstorm can be hazardous to your health.
Much of this filth is coming from combined sewer systems (CSS). These old wastewater treatment facilities collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater into one pipe. According to the EPA, “under normal conditions, it transports all of the wastewater it collects to a sewage treatment plant for treatment, then discharges to a water body. The volume of wastewater can sometimes exceed the capacity of the CSS or treatment plant (e.g., during heavy rainfall events or snowmelt). When this occurs, untreated stormwater and wastewater, discharges directly to nearby streams, rivers, and other water bodies.
Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) contain untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris as well as stormwater.”
Approximately 70% of sewer systems in New York City are combined. On the New Jersey side around New York Harbor, there are over 200 Combined Sewer Outfalls. Each of these outfalls is permitted and designed to discharge untreated sewage and stormwater when it rains to overwhelm aging and overbuilt stormwater infrastructure.
Both New York and New Jersey combined sewer systems discharge more than 40 billion gallons of raw sewage annually into local waters. That’s pretty gross!
Each outfall may overflow with raw sewage when there is even a very small amount of precipitation, like a tenth or twentienth of an inch. All the waste from people flushing toilets will discharge directly into the water. This waste will frequently remain in the water for up to 72 hours.
All this dirty water becomes a toxic cocktail that can cause infections and disease and make people very sick.
Viruses are believed to be the major cause of swimming-associated diseases, and are responsible for gastroenteritis, hepatitis, respiratory illness, and ear, nose, and throat problems. Gastroenteritis, which can also be caused by bacteria, is a common term for a variety of diseases that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea, headache, and fever. Other microbial diseases that can be contracted by swimmers include salmonellosis, shigellosis, and infection caused by E. coli (a type of enteric pathogen). Other microbial pathogens found at varying concentrations in recreational waters include amoeba and protozoa, which can cause giardiasis, amoebic dysentery, skin rashes, and pink eye.
Government officials normally test local waters during the summer only once a week, usually on a Monday morning. But if it rains on a Wednesday or Thursday the water quality will suffer and it will not be picked up by routine processes.
Now you know. Don't get sick this summer from swimming or surfing. Always wait three days after it rains before going into the water.