New Yorkers have been warned to stay out of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers on one of the hottest weekends of the year after millions of gallons of untreated sewage discharged from Manhattan into the waterways because of a four-alarm fire that shut down one of the city’s largest sewage treatment plants.
The city's drinking water has not been impacted, officials said, but people have been cautioned not to swim or kayak on the waterways through at least Monday.
The New York City health department also declared large parts of the East River and the Kill Van Kull unfit for swimming through the weekend.
Local authorities did not expect any beaches in the area to be closed because of the spill.
Still, a beach pollution advisory was issued Thursday evening for South, Midland and Cedar Grove Beaches on Staten Island and Sea Gate in Brooklyn, The New York Times reported. Updates were to be posted on the department website, www.nyc.gov/health .
"Right now, there's no impact on public beaches," Commissioner Cas Holloway, of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the plant, told The New York Daily News.
"However, you should not be doing contact recreation on the Hudson River,” he told the paper.
Temperatures in the New York area were forecast to soar into the triple digits on Friday .
The city has also warned against eating fish caught in these waterways, NBC New York reported.
‘A very chaotic scene’
Five pump engines caught fire in the machine room of the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Harlem on Wednesday and soon began belching heavy smoke.
"There was an explosion and the next thing you saw was a lot of black smoke covering the whole area," Jaime Vergara, a parking attending who works next to the Harlem plant, told the Daily News.
"People were in panic. It was a very chaotic scene," he told the paper.
Firefighters traveled around 400 feet from the plant’s entrance before reaching the machine room, Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the Fire Department, told The Times.
"The fire was fed by fuel, so they had to put foam on it," he told the paper. “There was intense heat in there.”
Firefighters were able to get the fire under control after about four hours. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, Dwyer told The Times.Story: Felt like 115-120 degrees in parts of East as records fall
The fire was not considered suspicious, officials said.
The plant treats about 120 million gallons of sewage a day, but it can handle up to 340 million gallons when it rains.
"It did significant damage, and we don’t know yet when we will get it back," The New York Times quoted Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for New York’s Department of Environmental Protection, as saying.
"We do have concerns about the amount of raw sewage entering into the water," New Jersey’s environmental commissioner, Bob Martin, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
"Right now we are in the initial assessment phase to gather the right data,” Martin told the paper.
Larry Levine, a water expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted in his blog Friday that New York ironically had celebrated "City of Water Day" last weekend.
"As bad as" this spill "is, there’s an even more disturbing, inconvenient truth about sewage in our water," he wrote. Because of an outdated sewage system, "the city still routinely dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage into local waterways every year when it rains."
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