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70 Groups Agree on Cleaner New York / New Jersey Harbor
NEW YORK, New York, April 4, 2008 (ENS) - After seven years of research and consensus building, a coalition of 70 stakeholder organizations working towards a more sustainable New York / New Jersey Harbor Watershed unveiled its final report Thursday.

The NY/NJ Harbor Consortium of the New York Academy of Sciences examined the causes of ongoing pollution to the harbor and developed management strategies for five important contaminants: mercury, cadmium, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

The Harbor Consortium members, though representing diverse and sometimes competing interests, were able to achieve consensus on the industrial sources of contaminants in the harbor and ways to prevent them from entering the watershed.

Their report, "Safe Harbor: Bringing People and Science Together to Improve the New York / New Jersey Harbor," was presented and discussed at a New York Academy of Sciences gathering of scientists, engineers and other technical experts.

During his keynote address to the gathering, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is investing more than $10 billion in two critical strategies that will keep pollutants out of the harbor.

Rail barge crosses New York / New Jersey Harbor (Photo courtesy New York New Jersey Rail)

"The first is completing large capital improvements that will expand and enhance our sewers and wastewater treatment plants. Commissioner Emily Lloyd and our Department of Environmental Protection are constructing four holding tanks in Northern Queens and Jamaica Bay that can temporarily retain 118 million gallons of Combined Sewage Overflow until after a storm passes," the mayor said.

"At the same time," he said, "we will upgrade two of our pumping stations to prevent stormwater overflow from pouring into our most polluted waterways at the Gowanus Canal and Coney Island Creek. And to protect aquatic life even further, we've committed more than $820 million to upgrade four wastewater treatment plants along the Upper East River with new technology that will reduce by 50 percent the amount of nitrogen they discharge into Long Island Sound."

The consortium originated from a 1998 EPA proposal, and has been meeting to explore ways to identify the sources of the five contaminants in the watershed and make recommendations to reduce their environmental impacts.

Some recommendations have already been implemented. In May 2002, the NYAS Harbor Project mercury report recommended requiring dental offices in New York and New Jersey to install amalgam separators to trap mercury amalgam particulates.

In September 2002, New York State ordered the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop regulations for the proper disposal of mercury amalgam waste. In May 2006, a regulation was passed requiring amalgam separator systems in dental offices.

In October 2007, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection put in place a rule requiring dentists to obtain a permit to discharge mercury or to install an amalgam separator.

"A healthy harbor is a regional priority with national significance," said EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg, who attended the meeting. "EPA is proud to have supported and partially funded this broad-based coalition of collaborative problem solvers, and even more proud to see final recommendations that will encourage others to seize those opportunities to be good environmental stewards."

"The harbor is not only an environmental treasure but the lifeblood of some of the most efficient aspects of our regional economy," said Charles Powers, the consortiumís chair for the life of the project.

"The harbor deserves concerted efforts from all of us - big institutions, small municipalities and families - to make it even healthier," said Powers. "Remarkably, key people from 70 institutions were able over seven years to agree on literally hundreds of ways - based on the data - to do just that."

R.M. Larrabee, director of Port Commerce for the Port Authority of NY/NJ, said, "The award winning pollution prevention strategies developed by the Consortium will lead to a cleaner and healthier Harbor and ultimately reduce the cost associated with maintaining safe navigation channels for the thousands of vessels calling at the port."

Most of the recommendations for mercury and cadmium have been adopted or are being considered for action. The consortium recognizes that recommendations can require years to implement and expects its recommendations in the three more recent reports on PCBs, dioxins, PAHs to be "executed in due course."

"As the Harbor Project comes to its conclusion, we expect that Harbor Consortium members and participants will continue to move the recommendations forward," the consortium said.

Results and recommendations from this research have been published and released in stages beginning in 2002 and ending in 2007 with the publication of the final report on PAHs and the final report. The reports and their many recommendations are online at: http://www.nyas.org/programs/harbor.asp

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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