Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Dip and a Message

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Dip and a Message

Article excerpt

SECAUCUS -- There are 26 municipal pipes that flush raw sewage into the Hackensack River during heavy rainstorms. One of the river's major tributaries -- Berry's Creek -- has among the highest concentrations of mercury in the nation. And for years, garbage water from landfills in the Meadowlands would routinely flush into the river.

Armed with this knowledge, three brave souls took a short dip in the Hackensack on Thursday to remind the public that even though the river is clean enough to boat and fish on, it isn't clean enough to swim.

"This is more a protest than anything else," said Bill Sheehan, head of the Hackensack Riverkeeper environmental advocacy group and one of the daring trio. "Anybody ought to be able to swim here and they can't."

The event was part of a four-day international event called "Swimmable Water Weekend" aimed at advocating for the health of waterways worldwide.

Four decades after the passage of the federal Clean Water Act, the Hackensack has slowly come back from the days when it was one of North Jersey's largest dumping grounds. But it is still faces an almost daily barrage of pollution from sewage overflows, street runoff and industrial spills among other sources.

The lower Hackensack, which snakes its way from Newark Bay through the Meadowlands, is still not approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection for "primary contact recreation" -- like swimming -- because of the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria.

It was the unseasonably chilly breeze and light rain that kept most of the people gathered at Laurel Hill County Park out of the water Thursday more than the threat of gastrointestinal infection.

While others barely got their feet wet, none of the three who ventured farther out into the river from a boat launch risked their health by putting their heads under water. On shore, supporters -- mostly members of Hackensack Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance -- joked that it resembled more a baptism than a swim. …

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