Swimming in Toxic Water


(ominous music) (waves rush)
(ominous music) (metal rattles) – Every waterway in the United States is supposed to be safe enough to swim in every single day; but,
of course, they’re not. (dramatic music) I am getting into these
contaminated waterways. Someone’s gotta risk something. If people see that image,
they start to ask themselves, why is that guy in there? That starts a discussion
that can lead to a clean up. (dramatic music) (bright music) My name’s Christopher Swain, and I’ve swum over 3,000 miles in over 25
different contaminated waterways in North America. I wanna
advocate for these waterways, and I can energize clean-ups.
(bright music) I learned to swim as a kid. I was the kid who didn’t
wanna get out of the water. (bright music) As I got older, and I think
this is true for many of us, I started to become aware
that waters are contaminated with everything from arsenic to zinc, everything from human
waste to nuclear waste. We saw our waterways as dumpsters. We saw them as sewers; legally speaking, since 1972 when the Federal
Clean Water Act passed, all navigable U.S. waterways
have to be safe for swimming and fishing and drinking; if
they’re a fresh water creek. (bright music) Dozens and dozens of
those waterways were in and around New York City. Newtown Creek is the worst of those. It is contaminated with lots
of things: heavy metals, toxic chemicals, raw sewage, and one of the largest ongoing oil spills in the history of the United States. So, in some way, we stole
this waterway from ourselves. What I’m saying is let’s turn that around. (bright music) (upbeat music) When I decide to take on a waterway, this is my puncture-resistant dry suit. I take all these measures on all my swims to protect my body and
to protect my health. I wear a cap; I wear
goggles; I wear ear plugs; I never put my head under, even so, I’ve gotten sick lots of times. Rashes, skin infections, ear infections, respiratory infections.
(upbeat music) It’s a hazard that goes
with the territory. (upbeat music)
The reason nobody has swum the length of
Newtown Creek in history is that at least in the last 100 years, it’s been far too disgusting. No one in their right
mind would go in there. (upbeat music) (dramatic music) It’s like swimming through a dirty diaper that’s been garnished with
oil, gasoline, and trash. Every part of your skin wants to crawl. So why do I push on and do it? I’m doing this out of love,
like I really do love the water, and I don’t have a lot to work with. I’m not a wealthy person;
I’m not a scientist. What I’ve got is my body
and my life to offer. I’m gonna keep going back in my dry suit and my hazmat gear until
these waterways are clean; and when they’re clean, I’m gonna get into these clean waterways
in my bathing suit and enjoy them with my fellow citizens. (upbeat music) (bright music)

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