Runoff contaminates Hudson River. Rainwater and melting snow a bigger problem than thought

Runoff from city streets, parking lots, and upstate farms contributes more of certain hazardous wastes to the Hudson River than factories or sewage plants, according to a study. In the case of eight of 26 hazardous chemicals found in the Hudson, the amount originating from such sources was hundreds of times greater than from industrial plants or municipal sewage systems, says a report released Tuesday by Inform, an environmental research group.

There has been a growing recognition of the impact of urban and agricultural runoff as polluters, says Nancy Lilienthal, a coauthor of the report.

``But we didn't expect to see quite this magnitude of difference,'' says Ms. Lilienthal. ``That's not to say we don't need to worry about industrial or sewage waste.''

But, as the report suggests, there need to be better controls on ``nonpoint source'' pollution, or pollution that cannot be traced to a specific source such as a factory. Most of the runoff, which varies depending on weather, typically occurs when rain or melted snow washes pesticides, oil, sediment, and other pollutants into the river.

And there need to be better monitoring and sampling of the Hudson by governmental agencies, says Lilienthal. The Inform study was composed from over 17,500 pieces of available data on the river. There has been improvement in the waters of the river in recent years, particularly with regard to certain chemicals such as lead. But Inform says gaps in available data make it difficult to judge overall trends.

``There is a lot that still isn't known about hazardous wastes in the Hudson,'' says Lilienthal.

Environmentalists hailed the report. ``I would not doubt its conclusions,'' says Nancy A. Wolf, executive director of the Environmental Action Coalition in New York City. It's easy to find major problem sources such as electric plants or city sewage systems, she says, and many of these have been forced to clean up their plants. ``But how do you monitor chemical fertilizers from a farmer who has 5,000 reasons why he needs to use it ...?'' asks Ms. Wolf. ``You multiply these things, and you've got something really significant.''

Lilienthal says there should be an assessment of pollution management practices in both urban and agricultural areas. Several states do have strategies for controlling nonpoint source pollution, which include techniques such as crop rotation to minimize the use of pesticides.

Wolf points out that nonpoint source pollution management means educating individuals, urging them to recycle, watch the ingredients of household products, and not to dump oil from a car on the ground or into a sewer.

Lilienthal says she hopes monitoring agencies will take note of the report and its suggestions. The hazardous chemicals pinpointed in the study have been identified as affecting the health of humans and fish. The 300-mile Hudson is used by millions for everything from drinking water to recreation.

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