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Contamination of Hutchinson River, Mt. Vernon, New York, USA

Mt. Vernon New York's improper waste and sewage management, contaminating the Hutchinson River, stinking up low income minority communities, and befouling downstream beaches and wildlife habitat.


The City of Mount Vernon, NY has continuously ignored various court orders, fines, and administrative compliance orders placed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and conservationists, to repair leaking sewer systems that are contaminating the Hutchinson River. The City and its administration have refused to act on these ordinances for 15 years [10]. This negligence puts the citizens and ecosystem of not only Mount Vernon but all surrounding and downstream communities at risk. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Contamination of Hutchinson River, Mt. Vernon, New York, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New York
Location of conflict:Mt. Vernon
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Responsibility for the horrific contamination of the Hutchinson River falls into the lap of the Mount Vernon municipalities. These state actors instead have decided that taking on a 'laissez faire' approach to their citizens health and safety is much easier and cheaper. There have been multiple calls by State and Federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the community to address improper waste disposal. Independent organizations have had to take it upon themselves to test the health and safety of the Hutchinson River with alarming results.

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Project area:1600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project90,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:Residents of Mt. Vernon, Pelham, and the Bronx
Start of the conflict:2003
Relevant government actors:NYS Governor Kathy Hochul (Democrat)
NYC Mayor Eric Adams (Democrat)
City of Mt. Vernon
Westchester County Health Department and Department of Environmental Facilities
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save the Sound-
Hutchinson River Restoration Project-
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Fines by the US EPA
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsWater borne illnesses
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsSmelly waterways/bad odors
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:A proposal brought about for combating this project is an inspection of the City’s 600,000 linear feet of sewers. This would determine what portions need to be fixed, and even if the entire system needs to be replaced. Surprisingly, the City of Mount Vernon has already started this process, inspecting 10,000 linear feet of sewers. While a promising start, the advancements on the project have since halted and no real change has been initiated. In order for the remaining 590,000 linear feet of sewer lines to be inspected in an 18 to 24 month span, the City would need to invest in a qualified crew and new equipment. The cost of a Department of Public Works crew of four people and new equipment would cost the city a total of $850,000 USD. Investments into both a Commissioner of Community Planning and Development as well as a City Engineer will also be necessary. The neighboring cities of New Rochelle and Yonkers each pay these positions upwards of $100,000 annually. The estimated cost of the remaining portion of sewer left to inspect as well as positions that need to be filled is about $1,836,000. However, after subtracting grants as well as vacancy savings, the net total cost of this project would be $122,000 [10]. This is a small price to pay for the safety and well being of thousands of low-income, minority individuals affected by the unsanitary water.

Considering the lack of progress made and basic planning enacted for the remaining portion of the project there is little to no information available of its cost or procedures. Hopefully, action is taken soon with appropriate proceedings as public health and safety as well as environmental protection are at risk.

On April 15, 2022 NYS Governor Kathy Hochul announced the state will direct $150 million towards replacing the City of Mt. Vernon's sewage system. The project includes $7 million from Clean Water Act funds will be awarded to the 'Third Street' Sewer Project. Additionally, NYS EFC will provide $8 million for emergency and long term repairs, and the Governor's Office for Storm Recovery will provide $3 million towards a housing remediation pilot program. The project will include a historic three-way partnership between the state, county and city. It has been announced that the NYS DEC will work in conjunction with Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Mt. Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard [17]. This is, while long overdue, a monumental moment for the people of Mt. Vernon and the protection of their health and safety.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:This cannot be considered an environmental justice success until the sewage line repair projects have been completed.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[1] United States Obtains Court Order Requiring City Of Mount Vernon To Address Polluting Storm Sewers
[click to view]

[2] US vs. City of Mt. Vernon
[click to view]

[3] MS4 Enforcement/Mt. Vernon, New York: U.S. District Judge Issues Order/Injunctive Relief Requiring Compliance
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan for Hutchinson River
[click to view]

[5] Hutchinson River Project Fact Sheet
[click to view]

[6] City-Wide Long Term CSO Control Planning, Project Hutchinson River, CS Waste Load Allocation, Water Quality and Sewer System Report
[click to view]

[7] Hidden Waters Blog
[click to view]

[8] Save the Sound
[click to view]

[9] CBS NY
[click to view]

[10] City of Mt. Vernon
[click to view]

[11] CDC Interactive Map
[click to view]

[12] CBS Local News
[click to view]

[13] Patch Article
[click to view]

[14] Westchester Endangered Species List
[click to view]

[15] Hutchinson River Raw Sewage Overflows
[click to view]

[16] Demographic of Mt. Vernon
[click to view]

[17] Governor Kathy Hochul
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Allison Palmisciano, [email protected]; Andrew J. Schneller, Skidmore College
Last update22/04/2022
Conflict ID:5319
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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