Environmental Concerns Over Alleged Con Ed Water Dumping



Boaters kayaking off of nearby Pier 84. Photo by Duojiao Chang

Hudson River Park at Pier 84 offers a dog park, lawns, an interactive fountain, and a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline. But just a few piers away, the city’s largest utility company, Consolidated Edison, is accused of doing something very ugly: dumping hot water containing toxins into the river off of Pier 98 for decades.

The New York Times first reported the issue in August after Tom Fox, an advisor to the Hudson River Park Trust reviewed public records and uncovered the problem. Con Ed, as the company is locally known, rents its section of the pier from the Hudson River Park Trust and uses water from the Hudson River to cool its electrical cables. Now, civic group City Club and Fox, a representative of the club, plan to sue the company for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, a federal law passed in 1972 to govern water pollution. The group cites dangers to aquatic life from extreme temperatures and toxins, including chloroform, in the water it’s accusing Con Ed of dumping.

“We were hoping to meet with Con Edison and discuss the issue so we didn’t have to file a lawsuit,” said Fox. “But apparently, they have chosen rather to defend themselves publicly but not talk to us.”

At a September Community Board 4 meeting, Con Ed said the environmental concerns are not substantial. “We are seeking to improve our performance and always want to do better. But in terms of impact to the river, this is a molehill,” said Venetia Lannon, Con Ed’s vice president for environmental health and safety.

But some experts say it is too soon to know the impact of Con Ed’s wastewater outflow. Using large rivers like the Hudson to discharge water in densely populated areas is common, according to Robert Pirani, a senior director at the Hudson River Foundation, a local environmental group that supports scientific research. But  water at extremely high temperatures promotes algae growth, which can be be harmful, according to Pirani.

City Club alleges the water that Con Ed is dumping is over 90 degrees.

“Having transparency and the complete record of the discharge is important to understand the situation,” said Pirani.

The Hudson River’s water quality has improved since the passing of the Clean Water Act, a 2020 report published by the Hudson River Foundation indicates. In 2019, the amount of oxygen available to fish and for other aquatic life to live hit 14 milligrams per liter, well above the 4.8 milligrams per liter threshold suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite improvement after the law was implemented, Hudson River water quality issues persist. In the summer of 2020, thousands of fish suffocated because of reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in the river.

Midtown residents and those who spend time at the pier said they are concerned Con Ed may be worsening an already existing problem.

“We spend real time seeing the water on a daily basis, experiencing it, and being a part of it. What’s happened with Con Edison is something that worries me for sure,” said Jay Cartagena, the general manager at Manhattan Kayak Company, which operates along the pier.

Marcin Steczkowski spends time at the pier every weekend with his daughter.  “The water doesn’t seem clean to me,” he said. He explained he had never – and probably would not – go on the river for kayaking or swimming.

City Club is expected to file the lawsuit in coming weeks. Fox said he hopes it will encourage communication.

“It’s to get them to look at alternatives and be more open in terms of information sharing, get us to understand better what’s happening, get the Department of Environmental Conservation to involve the public more broadly in decision making. You know, simple, simple things,” said Fox.

Con Ed did not respond to the Midtown Gazette’s request for comment on City Club’s intent to sue.