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  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: New York City's full of shit--

  • real shit, 27 billion gallons of shit that get dumped into

  • the Hudson River every year.

  • And that's billions, with a b.

  • Even though the city pipes in crystal-clear drinking water

  • from a collection of reservoirs up north, the

  • waters that New Yorkers see and smell every day are a

  • toxic nightmare.

  • Oil spills, PCBs, rotting corpses, human feces, and 15

  • feet of something called "black mayonnaise" are just a

  • few of the pristine features Mayor Bloomberg

  • isn't bragging about.

  • We're dipping our toes in and testing the waters for

  • ourselves to see how the toxicity of the Hudson River

  • has become the norm for America's urban waterways.

  • Welcome to "Toxic."

  • All right, I'm getting out.

  • I'm going to take this sample, make my way out of here.

  • All right, so that was it.

  • Hudson River swim.

  • Fucking disgusting.

  • TRACY BROWN: New York City wouldn't be New York City if

  • it wasn't for the Hudson River.

  • The fact that it is on the river and surrounded by water

  • is what defines the city and gives it its character.

  • One of the lingering problems we still have to address is

  • sewage pollution.

  • -In the early development of New York City, wetlands were

  • considered wastelands.

  • And they were basically filled in with garbage to create

  • solid land.

  • TRACY BROWN: Where you have older cities, like New York

  • City, and Albany, and Yonkers, where they used to build the

  • wastewater infrastructure where the sewage and the

  • stormwater went through the same pipe.

  • So when too much rain happened, it would overwhelm

  • those pipes, and they didn't want all that rain and

  • stormwater to go to their sewage treatment plant and

  • overwhelm the sewage treatment plant or back up into people's

  • houses, so they just bypass it directly

  • into their local waterway.

  • And that's what happens in New York City when it rains.

  • That's what happens in other cities around the country.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: The River Project has been

  • systematically testing the bacterial content of the

  • Hudson River for years now.

  • So we took our sample to their lab to evaluate it for

  • bacterial content that signifies the presence of

  • fecal matter in the river.

  • -Hello.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Hello.

  • -This is Nina.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Hi Nina, I'm Emerson.

  • I'm here from Vice.

  • I was swimming in it.

  • -OK.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: I cut my foot on some rocks on the way.

  • Do you think that's a bad thing?

  • -Did you wash it out?

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Not yet.

  • -You should probably go wash it out.

  • -You should.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: OK, I'll take care of

  • that as soon as possible.

  • All right.

  • -And then you leave it to incubate for 24 hours at 41

  • degrees Celsius.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Commercial fishing on the Hudson was put

  • to an end after the fish were deemed too toxic for

  • consumption.

  • So after I cut my foot, I started to worry that, I, too,

  • like many of the poor, native fish species, might end up

  • jawless, three-eyed, and sterile.

  • The Atlantic tomcod has the unique honor of being the

  • first fish species to adapt to PCBs, the toxic factory

  • coolants GE poured generously into the Hudson in the '70s.

  • Usually known to cause cancers and deformations in the fish,

  • some tomcod have adapted to thrive in a PCB-rich

  • environment and have since evolved to survive in such a

  • toxic world.

  • CHRIS CHAMBERS: My particular group studies the early life

  • stages of marine fish.

  • And we're particularly interested in how the

  • environments and habitat affects the survival and

  • fitness of those animals.

  • This is a typical tomcod larva hatching.

  • The head and eyes are dark in hatching.

  • Jaw is typically straight.

  • Here's some not so nice baby fish.

  • What you see here is a greatly enlarged yolk sac.

  • That's the edema I referred to.

  • The jaw is malformed.

  • The head has a bit of a point to it.

  • The eyes are not as dark.

  • And the body tends be more curved or not as straight.

  • TRACY BROWN: There's such limited commercial fishing

  • still allowed on the Hudson based on the

  • health of the fish.

  • Commercial fishing, as a way of life, on the Hudson was

  • destroyed and taken away because of the pollution in

  • the river and its effect on the fish stock.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: The 14 wastewater treatment plants

  • around the city process 1.3 billion gallons of

  • raw sewage a day.

  • That's 15,000 gallons per second.

  • Before they were built, and for most of the 20th century,

  • all that sewage was just loaded onto a boat and dumped

  • 12 miles east of the Jersey shore.

  • Later, they decided to dump further out--

  • 106 miles instead.

  • In 1991, somebody thought it was a good idea to load all

  • the sludge onto a train and send it 2,000 miles to Sierra

  • Blanca, a little town in west Texas.

  • New York State sent Texas 250 tons of sludge a

  • day for over 10 years.

  • NEVIN COHEN: Combined sewer overflows were the last

  • remaining uncontrolled form of water pollution in cities.

  • There are a few things that a city can do.

  • It can build holding tanks.

  • It can actually enlarge the sewer pipes.

  • But those are really expensive, and the alternative

  • to gray infrastructure for CSOs is green infrastructure.

  • And that means building parks, and gardens, and bioswales,

  • and other permeable surfaces in the city to both absorb and

  • slow down the flow of stormwater.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: All right.

  • So yesterday, after my delicious dip in the Hudson

  • River, we took a water sample and came here to the River

  • Project, let our sample incubate for 24 hours, and now

  • we're back to find out what was really in the water I was

  • swimming in.

  • -If our MPN is below 30, then that is a green

  • light from the EPA.

  • So you can basically do whatever

  • you'd like in the water.

  • You can go swimming.

  • If it is over 100 for the MPN, you should be careful, whether

  • you're recreating in the water But you definitely don't want

  • to get the water in your face, in your eyes, or

  • anything like that.

  • 259 bacterial colonies.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: So not only was the water I was swimming

  • in above the EPA limits--

  • which nobody had told me-- it was about 2.5 times above

  • federal standards.

  • -Yeah.

  • -You definitely shouldn't be swimming in the water.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Shouldn't have done that?

  • -No.

  • I hope you didn't swallow any.

  • EMERSON ROSENTHAL: Me too.

  • Tracy Brown and River Keepers' Sewage Right to Know Act

  • mandates that the public are notified immediately when

  • sewage is dumped into the Hudson.

  • But it's almost too obvious that public officials should

  • warn the people when they're paddle boarding

  • in a bunch of shit.

  • But while Governor Cuomo signed the act in August, it's

  • going to take at least until May 2013, for provisions to

  • take effect.

  • TRACY BROWN: This is the new, more dangerous pollutant.

  • As people get back in the water, sewage gets in the

  • water, there's less money for testing, and there's very few

  • requirements to tell the public

  • that you aren't testing.

  • I can tell you that New York City was not supportive of the

  • Sewage Right to Know Law.

  • They worked hard in the legislative process to water

  • down the bill.

  • And we hope that, now that it's passed, we'll implement

  • it in the way that it's intended to be implemented.

  • I would say based on my experience that it does not

  • seem that the Bloomberg administration is interested

  • in letting people know about the sewage problem around New

  • York City--