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NJ mom finishes environmental canoe trip

After more than a week’s worth of paddling, Medford Lakes mother of two Margo Pellegrino is completing the final leg of her nine-day canoe trip from Trenton to Newark, in order to raise awareness for pollution in the state’s waterways.

Delaware River
Colin Archer, Getty Images

Pellegrino paddled her outrigger canoe nearly 300 miles down the Delaware River, around the southern coast of the state, and up to Newark where she is scheduled to arrive around 3:30 p.m. Friday at Newark Riverfront Park.

During a pit stop on Thursday in Sandy Hook to meet with members of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action, Pellegrino said she has seen many combined sewer outfalls, which drain both treated wastewater and storm water into the waterways.

“Trenton has one, Camden has 28, Newark has 20,” she said.

Pellegrino said what makes the combined sewer outfalls so dangerous is that as flooding becomes more frequent, so does the possibility of sewage overflow.

“What happens with these combined sewer outfalls is, during flooding situations, you have your poo mixed with your flood waters,” Pellegrino said.

She said low-lying cities like Camden are particularly vulnerable to these situations, something she called “a third-world problem.”

“I go to Camden and I talk once a year and they can’t get out of their houses when it floods,” she said. “Not only is there high water, there’s poo water.”

Many communities in the southern part of the state have addressed the issue by separating their storm water and sewage systems.

Cindy Zipf, president of Clean Ocean Action, said it’s mostly north of the Raritan River that the combined sewer outfalls are seen.

However, Pellegrino pointed out the sewage can easily travel south toward beaches and swimming areas.

“I was right outside of Harvey Cedars, on the ocean, and all of a sudden the water is getting gross-ooking, with lots of particulates and lots of stuff floating,” Pellegrino said. “There were sea nettles, which was the first I had seen of them.”

Along her trip, Pellegrino has been collecting water samples at various points using Hope2o test kits provided by Blue Ocean Sciences. These will contribute to a database after the fact.

This isn’t the first long paddling trip the 47-year-old, stay-at-home mom has made. She has made similar trips along the state’s waterways to raise awareness for ocean conservation. In 2007, Pellegrino paddled 2,000 miles from Miami to Maine, and has also canoed the California and Gulf coasts.

While the health of the waterways hasn’t improved since she began doing the trips, Pellegrino said there has been increased awareness about environmental issues.

“There are more people that seem to be aware of the problem,” she said. “What’s is different is, the disconnect between the people and the policymakers has become wider. The people get it, they get sea level rise.”

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