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Researchers Find Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria In The Hudson River

Courtesy of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University

A new study finds antibiotic-resistant bacteria in certain spots of the Hudson River, and researchers say the disease-causing strains are part of the ongoing risk from sewage contamination in the water.

The microbes identified are resistant to those types of antibiotics commonly used to treat ear infections, pneumonia, and other ailments. Suzanne Young is the study’s lead author. She says the study focused on 10 sites, in areas from the Tappan Zee Bridge to Manhattan and Queens.

That was in Queens. Two of the study’s sites are in the Hudson Valley – in Yonkers and near sewage outflow pipes near Piermont Pier, in Rockland County. She talks about the latter.

The researchers found that upon repeated visits to the 10 locations, the microbes were resistant to ampicillin 84 percent of the time, and resistant to tetracycline 38 percent of the time. Dr. Stephen Morse, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was not involved in the study. He says that if he were inclined to swim in the Hudson, he’d look to this study to learn which places to avoid. Again, here’s Young.

Young, who is now studying how Mississippi water snakes respond to infection with antibiotic-resistant pathogens, says a lot of bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics.

Tracy Brown is a water quality advocate for Westchester-based Riverkeeper. She has previously pointed out that many sewage treatments plants divert water through combined sewer overflows during times of heavy rain, and these CSOs can be found up and down the Hudson.

Brown has been advocating for full adherence to New York’s Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, a notification law passed in 2012. Riverkeeper, in partnership with scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and Queens College at the City University of New York have been tracking Hudson River water quality and making their results public on Riverkeeper’s website. The results confirm that combined sewer overflows remain a serious problem despite the Hudson River being cleaner than in the past.

Young, meanwhile, says she hopes to raise public awareness, and see more conservation practices and the use of green infrastructure.

Young, a former college student in New York City who is now a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, says the study is the first to link specific microbes to sewage in the Hudson River, and compare results at different locations. The study is published in the Journal of Water and Health.

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