Environmental officials urged swimmers and kayakers to stay out of New York City waters Thursday because a wastewater treatment plant disabled by fire was spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Hudson River.
New York City Department of Environmental Protection officials urged people to avoid swimming, canoeing, and any other recreational activities involving direct contact with the water through at least Sunday in New York Harbor on the Hudson River, on the East River along Manhattan, and the Harlem River.
Officials also cautioned against swimming and bathing at Staten Island's South Beach, Midland Beach and Cedar Grove Beach, and Brooklyn's Sea Gate beach, especially for people with underlying medical conditions. Officials said testing indicated that those beaches may be affected by the sewage spill.
Police harbor units were patrolling near the plant to ensure boaters keep a proper distance. The city Parks Department was restricting access to the river at the 79th Street Boat Basin and placing signs prohibiting recreational water activities from all city boat launch sites along the Hudson River and other nearby sites, according to DEP spokesman Farrell Sklerov.
DEP staff and contractors were inside the facility assessing damage and performing cleanup. Officials gave no word on when the plant would be running again. Some wastewater was being diverted to other facilities, Sklerov said.
DEP and city health officials were taking samples in the harbor and at area beaches, which remain open.
Consuming any fish caught in the affected waters also was not recommended for the time being. Officials urged anglers to release any fish they catch back into the water.
The North River Wastewater Treatment Plant was taken offline Wednesday following a four-alarm fire in the engine room. Untreated wastewater began flowing into the river beginning at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday and has continued since. The plant has been in operation since 1976 and treats on average 120 million gallons of wastewater a day.
The Westchester County Health Department notified its residents to avoid direct contact with the Hudson River along Westchester County through the weekend.
New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said water tests were being done for bacteria and pathogens. He said no impact is expected south of Sandy Hook at the Jersey Shore.
"We're on top of it, we want the public to be aware we're staying on top of it and we're going to continue to communicate as we learn more information," Martin said Thursday afternoon.
Associated Press writer Angela Delli Santi in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.