Water contamination in the Harlem River

Authors: Jingyu Wang*, Bronx Community College/CUNY, Dept of Chemistry & Chemical Technology
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: CSOs, water contamination, nutrient, bacteria, fish consumption
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Capitol Ballroom 5, Hyatt Regency, Fourth Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Harlem River is a natural straight, connects the Hudson River and East River. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) discharge rainwater mixed with untreated sewage during or following rainfall into the Harlem River, elevated nutrient and bacteria levels. CSOs is the major contamination source in the Harlem River and other rivers in New York City (NYC).

Water samples were collected during or following rainstorms, and were brought to chemical laboratory, to analyze the pH, EC, fecal coliform, E.Coli., enterococcus, ammonia, turbidity, hardness, phosphate and polychlorinated biphenyls- 3,3’-dichlorobiphenyl (PCB11). Results showed nutrients and bacteria levels are exceeded US EPA, NYC DEP, NYS DEC regulated levels. CSOs collected this year 2019 showed that during heavy during storm on August 7, the fecal coliform was 8,000 MPN/100ml, E.Coli was 2000 MPN/100ml, and enterococcus was 4,000 MPN/100ml, those were significantly higher than DEP standard for NYC waters (fecal coliform: 200, E.Coli: 104, enterococcus: 126 all in MPN/100ml). Hardness was 815 mg/Kg as CaCO3. On October 9th rainstorm, ammonia was 0.82 mg/L (DEP standard was 0.23mg/L for NYC waters), and turbidity was 108 FAU that was exceeded standard of 5.25 FAU.

Water contamination degraded water quality in the Harlem River, it’s not safe for swimming, boating, fishing during or following rainfall. Fish caught from the Harlem River was banned from commercial, major concern is PCBs, cadmium and dioxin. Green roof, green wall were built along the river to reduce volume of stormwater runoff and CSOs, hope this research can help make the river swimmable and fishable again.

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