Not Your Grandfather’s Hudson: Cleanup Campaigns Have Transformed the River

Not Your Grandfather’s Hudson: Cleanup Campaigns Have Transformed the River

IMG_0484Did You Know?

  • The Hudson is getting closer today in cleanliness to what it was in 1604 than it was in 1964
  • Cleanup efforts have been in place for nearly 40 years
  • PCBs have been banned since 1978
  • 40,000 paddlers navigate the Hudson in the NY Metro area every year
  • There are 6 long swims every year in the Hudson
  • The NYC Triathalon uses the Hudson for the swim portion of the meet

The Past

Named after the English explorer Henry Hudson, who first sailed the river in 1609, the Hudson River became a key transportation route for commerce during the Industrial Revolution. This growth of industry created communities, brought much-needed wealth, and helped the region become the economic and social center of the United States during the country’s early expansion out west. There was a time when industrial pollution marred the great river. For much of the industrial boom that encompassed the banks of the Hudson, manufacturers used Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as preventative measure against fire due to the compound’s ability to withstand heat. While the EPA finally banned the use of PCBs in 1978, an estimated 1.3 millions pounds of the pollutant were dumped into the Hudson.

The primary health threat associated with PCB build up in the human body is through eating contaminated fish. Dating back to the mid-70s, New York State has found high levels of PCBs in fish caught from the Hudson, which resulted in the state closing some commercial and recreational fisheries and issuing public advisories against eating any fish caught from the river.

While the Hudson’s past seems bleak, the river’s future has never been brighter! The Environmental Protection Agency has classified nearly 200 miles of the Hudson River as a Superfund site, a cleanup program through the EPA. Thanks to combined efforts of local, state and federal agencies to clean up the river, the Hudson has become healthier and once again ranks as a treasured resource for the people of New York to enjoy.

A Bright Future

Did you know the Hudson River today is getting closer in cleanliness to what it was in 1604 than it was in 1964? The Federal Clean Water Act in the mid 1970s was the first step to rejuvenating Americas Waterways, as it greatly limited industrial and biological pollutants going into U.S. Rivers and waterways. Of all waterways in the U.S., none have been as rejuvenated or more protected than the Hudson River. The Robert Kennedy Jr. led Riverkeeper program, the Clearwater Sloop School, championed by folk singer Pete Seeger, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Hudson River Park and countless other local cleanup groups have relentlessly pursued a cleaner Hudson for nearly 40 years. The results have been dramatic!

How can it be that the Hudson River is closer in cleanliness today to what it was in 1604 than it was in 1964? Naturally self-cleaning mechanisms of mountain fed freshwater headwaters, powerful ebbing tidal currents, along with the aforementioned human organizational groups, continue to fully reinvigorate the grandeur of the Hudson Estuaries. In 2002, the EPA began its cleanup program of the Hudson, a two-phase program designed to dredge nearly 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediment from the riverbed.

The revitalization of the Hudson has once again made the river a perfect spot for recreational outings. Every year, nearly 40,000 paddlers spend time navigating the Hudson River in and around NYC metro. There are half a dozen long swims, including Manhattan circumnavigations and the heavily attended NYC Triathlon on Manhattan’s West Side that includes a vigorous swim sprint in the Hudson. And here at the Manhattan Kayak Company, we lead daily tours on the Hudson and rent out kayaks to hundreds of paddling enthusiasts every summer. So even though the Hudson has earned its reputation in the past, come experience for yourself the Hudson of the present and has majestic the river has become once again.

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