April’s Community Meeting began with an update on the Bard Water Lab, given by Clara Woolner. Clara plotted graphs using data collection from December to April (except for January). In summary, she explained that her data shows low counts of enterococcus bacteria and that conductivity levels relatively stayed the same during winter months. However, there is an expectation that conductivity levels will rise during the summer. She also mentioned that Site 6 along the Saw Kill on Benner Road, has higher levels of conductivity and bacteria than any other sites. Afterward, Laurie Husted disclosed the issues on dams. For instance, they are a disturbance to aquatic life and are expensive to maintain and remove. Currently, there are two dams on Bard College’s campus and Bard is looking for funding to study the dams. Later, Sheila Buff provided an update on Amtrak’s agenda. They want to install fences around the train tracks to ensure safety, but this poses a great issue for wildlife and people who want to enjoy the river.
Dr. Emma Rosi, an ecologist at the Cary Institute, soon presented on the effects of pharmaceutical drugs and personal care products in rivers. She begins by explaining the rivers’ sources of contamination: the toilets. When people take drugs, it usually isn’t metabolized by our bodies and the drugs come out through our urine and feces, which is flushed down the toilet. People also flush expired or non-expired drugs down the toilet. Drugs that are flushed down the toilets becomes very problematic because the wastewater treatment plant isn’t designed to properly filter out the drugs, so the river becomes contaminated with drugs. The river also becomes contaminated through the landfill. We place 50% of our feces, and solids (composed of drugs) onto land. However, when the landfills leak, the feces are taken to the wastewater treatment plant. This is problematic because (as mentioned previously) the wastewater treatment plant doesn’t filter the drugs. Another practice that pollutes the water is by simply applying lotion, or sunscreen. When we shower, the chemicals are washed up and sent to the wastewater treatment plant. Again, the plant doesn’t filter out the chemicals, so it ends up in the river. Moreover, we put a lot of drugs such as antibiotics in livestock. So, when the livestock excretes waste, drugs are excreted as well. We then apply the waste into landfills, and the cycle of polluting rivers continue once they move the waste to the treatment plant.
Dr. Rosi further explains her work with the Hudson River. Her focus is examining the impacts of drugs on rivers. She researched the effects of algae on drugs that are prevalent in the Hudson because algae are very significant. They are the base of the food chain and they are often exposed to drugs since they bloom in streams. She found that drugs such as Triclosan, and antidepressants, stunt the growth rate of algae. (Triclosan are antibacterial agents found in care products such as toothpaste. It was banned in soap production in 2016). She had also done lab work with putting bacteria on drugs, such as Triclosan, and analyzed how quickly they will grow resistance to drugs. She found that the bacteria have quickly grown resistance and bacterial communities had fundamentally changed. She also put bugs on drugs, such as Cimetidine, which helps with stomach acid. She found that the bugs emerge into adulthood much faster.
Dr. Rosi reveals steps we can take to reduce drugs in our rivers. She explains that we must not flush our drugs down the toilet. Instead, we can take expired or unwanted drugs to pharmacies and they will incinerate them properly. Additionally, we can encourage our local politicians to upgrade and maintain our wastewater treatment plant. Lastly, we can encourage and support research on rivers.
To read the full meeting minutes click here. Our next community meeting event is on Thursday, May 10th at the Red Hook Town Hall. Our next water sampling event is on Friday, May 11th. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org! Hope to see everyone sampling at the Saw Kill and/or at the Community Meeting soon!