Hudson River water is teeming with dissolved pharmaceuticals that may have been excreted or flushed down the drain, a new study from the journal Water Research found.
“Some levels are high enough that you could be concerned about fish and other aquatic organisms,” said Andrew Juhl, one of the study’s authors. “Right now, we don’t know what the effects might be. Our point right now is to say these pharmaceuticals are there, and here’s the pattern throughout the river.”
Juhl is an aquatic biologist from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which collaborated with staff from the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental group Riverkeeper and Queens College on the newly released study.
While this study isn’t the first to discover drugs in the waters of the Hudson, it is the first that looked at a wide sample to chart levels and distribution. In total, researchers found 16 types of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, epilepsy, ulcers and heartburn, as well as acetaminophen, a common substitute for aspirin, which was “widespread.” Blood-pressure medication was the most common.
Researchers believe the medications entered the Hudson River water via sewage outfalls.
High pharmaceutical levels were found in the waters around New York City, but the highest concentrations were discovered in municipal outfalls upstate, researchers said. About 90 percent of the drugs researchers tested for were discovered near Orangetown and Yonkers, and “worrisome quantities” were found near Kingston.
They sampled 72 sites along a 155-mile stretch of the Hudson River twice — first in May 2016 and again in July that same year — starting above Troy, New York, where the Hudson and Mohawk River connect, and ended off The Battery in New York Harbor.
The study said there is no “direct evidence” that humans can be harmed by the pharmaceuticals found in the Hudson River, but previous studies indicate the current levels could be harmful to aquatic life such as freshwater shrimp, fish and mussels.
“We don’t know the consequences for aquatic organisms of long-term chronic exposure to any of these substances or mixtures of them,” Juhl said. “At this point, we now have some basis for concern, but we don’t really know.”
The 315-mile Hudson River flows mostly through eastern New York, originating in the Adirondack Mountains upstate and draining into the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey.