Intersex fish discoveries in two NJ counties of the Wallkill River underscore environmental contamination concerns in New York.
Since it’s not the first time that gamefish discovered in the Northeast have shown characteristics of the opposite sex, long suspected environmental contamination problems have returned to the forefront in New York and New Jersey.
For people in places like New Paltz, N.Y., the story is an old one. Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez said, “We all kind of knew that there were problems with the Wallkill. I think the fact that we’re looking at these problems means we are more likely to try to solve them. Everyone kind of knows that the Wallkill is not the cleanest river in the world, but I think if we start now working on it, my hope is in 20 years we can get it clean.”
While supervisor Bettez isn’t ready to start throwing around blame yet, the Sierra Club isn’t so shy. The famed organization is quoted in the Daily Freeman News as saying “These types of deformities may be attributed to hormone-filled runoff of pesticides and other pollutants in the water. The state of New Jersey has failed to afford these water bodies the protection they deserve, and now we’re seeing the effect of that.”
Again the phrase, “endocrine disrupting chemicals” has shown up in our eyes and ears.
Even former New Paltz Mayor Jason West knew the score. The former mayor and other Ulster County officials have been walking around the idea that the Wallkill is polluted for years.
When speaking of the area’s local annual regatta on the river, Bettez said of West, “He had a quote in the paper saying it’s the one day of the year we pretend the river isn’t polluted.”
Although Bettez says that, “I wouldn’t pick on New Jersey more than any other [cause]” and even the U.S. Geographical Survey report said, “It is not clear what the specific cause … is,” there is plenty of blame to go around.
The Wallkill River is one of the few rivers in the Northeast that flows in a northerly direction, ultimately joining with Roundout Creek which then flows into the Hudson River. Included in this economically and environmentally important area, but not connected, are the Roundout Reservoir and the Ashokan Reservoir- both staples of the New York City water supply.
In the 1997 book Living Downstream, Sandra Steingraber, a cancer survivor, attempted to show the relationship between environmental pollution and cancer, and how humans can reduce their exposure to environmental carcinogens.
Still, Geological Survey biologist Luke Iwanowicz was quoted as saying “chemical analyses of fish or water samples at collection sites were not conducted, so we cannot attribute the observation of intersex to specific, known estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals”
But if gamefish like smallmouth bass are showing intersex characteristics, what’s next? Do we wait until fish like bass, pike, trout, and salmon start dying before we act? Without access to a well managed and healthy fishery, things like license dollars will continue to drop and along with it tourism.
Sportsmen and women are famous for their contribution to a healthy outdoors, but this is a fight we must all join together in. Beyond the story of an unhealthy Wallkill River system is the fact that something is happening to our fishery and we as humans, along with our children, are next in line.