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article imageBrooklyn Bridge swim contestants brave polluted East River waters

By Joan Firstenberg     Jul 31, 2011 in Sports
New York - It's warm enough in New York City that a swim sounds like it could be delightful. But when it's a swim in the East River, now that's another story, especially when just last week, there was a big spillage of raw sewage right into the River.
Some 400 swimmers turned out on this last day of July to traverse the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They all wore pink swim caps so they could easily be spotted in this sixth-annual Brooklyn Bridge swim. The New York Daily News reports that the swim went forward even though the city had declared parts of the route unfit for swimming last week after raw sewage spewed out of a nearby Harlem treatment plant.
The swimmers knew what they might be getting into, but decided to plunge ahead. Fifty-three year old Alice Gallagher of Greenwich Village had this to say.
"I had two moments when I felt something that wasn't water, but I don't want to know what it was. It could've been a plastic bag, it could be ...seaweed, but you don't ask. You just swim."
The group that sponsors the races, NYC Swim tells Digital Journal that they felt slighted and misrepresented in terms of the water quality by the articles in the New York Daily News and the New York Post, and that the swimmers who mentioned they were nervous about the water quality were strong-armed into saying that by the aggressive newspaper reporters.
"Fortunately, repeated tests of water quality performed by the Department of Environmental Protection show that the water quality recovered early in the week.
Since 1993, NYC Swim has attracted 15,000 participants in more than 125 swimming races. There have been incidents when we canceled events due to unsatisfactory water quality. Had the tests shown that yesterday's event was unsafe, it would not have been held."
NYC Swim also offers some statistics on the water quality from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection which you would have to be a scientist to understand.
"The DEP test from late last week is at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/harbor/hudson_river_special_sample_07292011.pdf SS1 is the test at the BB for our swim Saturday. FC < 200 and Entero < 35 is what is desired."
Most of the contestants were pretty good swimmers and managed to cross the stretch, which is over the length of 10 football fields in about 15 minutes. Aware o f the conditions in the water, some had their own particular way of dealing with it. They also prayed they didn't acquire any rashes or rare diseases. Ellen Weinberg, 50, of the Chelsea area puts it this way.
"My secret is that after I swim, I do a shot of tequila to clean out my system. That's why I don't get sick."
But contest founder, Morty Berger, insists that the river is safe for swimming, pointing out that city officials tested the water a few days before the race and found it to be swimable. He says
"It's hard for people to believe, but it's clean."
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