A report from Tracy Brown, Director, Save the Sound
You may recall, I first addressed this issue five years ago, when Save the Sound was made aware of untreated wastewater (including sewage) flowing from the city of Mount Vernon into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers that continues downstream into Eastchester Bay and Long Island Sound, 24/7, 365 days a year. Back then, when visiting multiple locations on the Hutchinson River, I was shocked to see (and smell!) the pollution in the water. It was truly overwhelming. I felt reasonably confident that if we documented it, and sent our findings to the relevant authorities, we could get the problem addressed fairly quickly. It was, after all, a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
During the documentation and reporting process, we learned that the pollution had been known about for years prior and that NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had already repeatedly tried to get Mount Vernon to make the needed repairs to fix the problems to no avail. So, we decided to reach out to the enforcement team at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA inspector sampling on the Hutchinson River with Save the Sound
EPA was ready and willing to take on the challenge and in March 2015 brought a new enforcement action against Mount Vernon, but the leadership of Mount Vernon ignored EPA, like the DEC before them, and did not make the needed repairs. This was shocking to me, as I’d never seen a community willfully ignore a law enforcement action from a federal agency before. EPA then decided to enlist the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which brought Mount Vernon to federal court in June 2018.
This has Mount Vernon’s lawyers paying attention to the issue. However, city officials remain shockingly passive in the face of the escalating danger and fines they are bringing upon their residents. Not to mention the growing public health risk for their own neighborhoods and for everyone else downstream.
Behind the homes on Farrell and Beechwood Avenues, sewage-contaminated water mixes
with plastic garbage, creating a toxic brew on the riverbank of the Hutchinson
No one should be swimming in the Hutchinson River near Mount Vernon
Save the Sound recently completed our annual Bacteria Water Quality Monitoring program in western Long Island Sound waterways. This year, our testing recorded the highest concentration of fecal bacteria pollution yet in the Hutchinson River—with an average concentration that is 40 times higher than the state criteria for safe swimming water. Yes, you read that right…40X! We strongly recommend that NO ONE swim or wade (including your pets) in the Hutchinson River anywhere in or near Mount Vernon until these issues are taken seriously and corrected. Of equal concern are the multiple swimming clubs downstream on Eastchester Bay in the Bronx that are being impacted by this pollution.
Save the Sound has documented the increase in water pollution in the Hutchinson River since 2016
What’s needs to be done next?
We’re calling on Mount Vernon to post signs to warn the public not to come into contact with the water at the fecal bacteria contamination hot spots we monitor at the intersection of Farrell and Beechwood Ave. and at Glover Field (both pictured), and any others they are aware of, including on the Bronx River.
Sewage manhole under the foot bridge at Glover Field that overflows
untreated waste into the river when it rains
Save the Sound strongly urges all Mount Vernon residents to participate in the upcoming local elections and tell the candidates that you demand clean and safe water in your community, and immediate and sustained attention to repairing the water infrastructure throughout the city. We will continue to work with the government and residents of Mount Vernon, and the team at EPA, to get the needed repairs made to Mount Vernon’s underground sewer and stormwater pipes, and to restore the Hutchinson and Bronx rivers to a clean and healthy state that is safe for wildlife and human enjoyment.
Reporting Water Pollution
If you see suspected water pollution in your community, please document it with a photo and/or video and send to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the time and date, exact location, and a description of the smell and appearance of the water. If you witness someone actively dumping waste into a waterway, call 911 and ask the police to respond.
Pipe mysteriously discharging on a sunny day into the Hutchinson River