Skip to main content

SIM-39: Interstate Environmental Commission Records

Identifier: SIM-39

Scope and Contents

The IEC records comprise 225 cubic feet of material spanning 1928-2016. New materials are expected to be added, as this is the archive of an active organization on campus. The collection contains field and laboratory records, large-scale scientific studies, legal documents, legislative materials, correspondence, reports, transcriptions of public hearings and talks, photographs, microfilm, and news clippings.

The collection is divided into 23 distinct series, with four having several subseries:

Air Pollution and Air Quality Air Quality, Odor Complaints Annual Reports Clean Water Act Arthur Kill Committee Participation Conferences and Meetings Connecticut State Water Commission Correspondence Dredged Material Field and Laboratory Records Field and Laboratory Records, Boat Trips Field and Laboratory Records, District Waters Field and Laboratory Records, Helicopter Runs Field and Laboratory Records, Investigations Field and Laboratory Records, Summaries of Analysis Floatables Fresh Kills Landfill Hazardous Spills Legal Records, Court Orders, ISC Orders Legal Records, Law Suits Legal Records, Law Suits, Brooklyn Navy Yard Legal Records, Law Suits, Woodbridge v. City of New York Legal Records, Law Suits, U.S. v. City of Hoboken Mytelka, Alan I. Records Oil Spills Public Hearings, Statements, and Talks Reports Sewage and Sewerage Sludge Studies/Surveys Hudson River Survey Industrial Waste Inventories/Surveys Long Island Sound Studies/Surveys New York Harbor Study Water Quality

The majority of the records are in the Field and Laboratory Records, Fresh Kills Landfill, Legal Records, Sewage and Sewerage, and Water Quality series. Many of the files in the Water Quality series contain what could be considered field and lab records, however, the sheer size and focus of these materials necessitated making a full series of the topic. Throughout the collection, there are gaps in coverage. However, taken as a whole, the engineers’ lab records and books, as well as scientific studies document the area’s air and water pollution over a significant time period.

Of note are some of the earliest records in the collection from the Connecticut State Water Commission series. Additionally, the annual reports files provide a substantial narrative to the collection. The Alan I. Mytelka files provide insight into one of the more prolific chairmen of the IEC. He was particularly active in inventing methods for testing and developing machines to test materials.

The Public Hearings, Statements, and Talks also provide a window into the processes of creating new laws and standards through public comment. Each of the three states held hearings for standards, and their transcripts feature speakers on a range of different topics. Talks given by chief engineers at conferences and other meetings are included in this series, as many resulted in public statements and/or published materials.

The Legal Records were produced from the IEC’s counselors’ files, and notes from various counselors are present in the files. Each case involved considerable background information and exhibits. Photographs accompany some of these records, as well as scientific files supporting the evidence. The records document some of the largest pollution-related lawsuits in the region.

The Correspondence files shine a light on everything involved in running such a sizable organization involved not just in regional, but national standards development, from simple violations to complex politicking to achieve specific goals. The legal files also contain their own type of correspondence, most dealing directly with IEC’s counselors and their efforts over time.

In addition to the technical records, of interest to researchers are the Field and Laboratory records from the boat trips and helicopter runs. The boat trip files often list dignitaries and other attendees who toured the district waters for a full day of pollution spotting. The Field and Laboratory records are especially strong in terms of naming polluters, their specific violations, and the locations of the issues.

The Sewerage and Sewerage, as well as Sludge series also well represent the evolution of standards in those areas, as well as the treatment plants. The Combined Sewer Studies portion of that series is of particular interest with regard to the treatment plant performance over time. Researchers may wish to pair these studies with the early annual reports to track this information.

The very large scale studies/surveys, especially the Industrial Waste Inventories and the Long Island Sound Studies, are filled with documentary evidence of interest to researchers in those topics. The Hudson River and New York Harbor studies and surveys provide long-term, large-scale testing results of the primary waters affected by pollution in the area.

Due to its location on Staten Island, of particular interest in this collection is the series on the Fresh Kills Landfill. In addition to the significant quantity of scientific records, there also are legal records for researchers to explore. These records may also be used in conjunction with the Fresh Kills collection already in existence in the CSI archive.


  • Majority of material found within 1934 - 2018

Biographical / Historical

What is now known as the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC) began with the Tri-state Treaty Commission for Abatement of Pollution of Harbor and Coastal Waters within the Metropolitan Area (1931-1932). The impetus for this commission grew directly out of the early 20th century construction of the Passaic Valley Trunk Sewer, which would discharge sewage into the upper bay of New York Harbor. 1924 brought the first formalization of a committee for a joint pollution minimization plan for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. One of the primary drivers for forming such a committee was to collectively urge the Federal government to address pollution conditions in the New York Harbor and nearby waters. The Joint Legislative Committee conducted an exhaustive survey of existing sewer systems and other methods of sewage disposal, which they released in a report in early 1927. The report led to comprehensive plans for sewage disposal and garbage disposal plants in the NY metropolitan area, with the ultimate goal of eliminating dumping at sea.

On January 24, 1936, the Interstate Sanitation Commission (ISC) was formed and the Tri-State Compact was signed by New York and New Jersey. Its first offices opened at 60 Hudson Street, New York City. The ISC met regularly on a monthly basis. The first Chair elected was Joseph P. Day. The other officers were Col. J. Lester Eisner as Vice Chairman, J. Spencer Smith as Treasurer, and Jeremiah D. Maguire as Acting Chairman.

The following year was a very busy one, as seen in the notes for the 1937 Annual Report in this collection. However, many agencies and individuals cooperated with the ISC to begin public hearings to discuss the heavily polluted waters in the area. Engineers, rather than scientists, comprised the advisory committee for the hearings. The hearings, from the earliest to the present, have been well attended and covered avidly by the press.

In 1937, only 30% of all sewage discharged into the ISC district was treated in any way. At that time, 86% of all the municipalities discharging sewage into those waters violated the Tri-State Compact’s standards for purification. The Tri-State Compact’s District runs west from a line between Port Jefferson, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut, on Long Island Sound; south from Bear Mountain on the Hudson River to Sandy Hook, New Jersey (including Upper and Lower New York Bays, Newark Bay, Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull); and embraces a portion of the Atlantic Ocean out to Fire Island Inlet on the southern shore of Long Island and the waters abutting all five boroughs of New York City. Essentially, it encompasses all of the water shared by the three states.

The ISC sponsored a Works Progress Administration Project to examine the extent, sources, and effects of pollution on tidal waters by sanitary (sewerage), industrial, and other wastes in and adjacent to the New York City Metropolitan area. The results served as a baseline to determine the effects of sewage treatment plants.

The ISC also participated in Congressional hearings concerning bills on pollution abatement. The Commission appeared at public meetings on the use of various harbors, sewage works, and municipal pollution matters. From the Compact, the ISC recognized the need to find funding to construct sewage treatment plants and trunk sewers for the district, and resolved to work on that issue because many municipalities were unable to pay for such work. To address pollution abatement, the ISC also further resolved to develop a progressive plan to construct sanitation projects.

By 1938, the ISC had begun conducting economic surveys on the losses due to pollution. Long Island saw a drop of nearly $800,000 in shellfish business. The oyster market in the district waters lost over $650,000 in income. Many areas were closed due to pollution, including Canarsie, which had previously seen a $4 million shellfish market. Beachfront properties lost value, up to 92% in some locations.

ISC also began a public relations effort to raise awareness of the continued pollution issues and of its work. Some of the benefits included cooperative relationships with other agencies, private associations, and the press.

The ISC made huge gains between 1938 and 1939. Newly created treatment plants treated pollution from 9% of the population in the district (over 1 million people). The NYC Department of Health saw such large improvements that they lifted the ban on shellfish. 26 treatment plants had been completed or were under construction. ISC also became a part of the legislative efforts in the region and begam efforts to classify the waters in the district.

In 1941, Connecticut joined the ISC, as per the Tri-State Compact. Four times the pollution as 1936 was being removed from the district. 77 sewage treatment plants were operating, and another 7 were under construction.

During the World War II years, all work on new plants came to a halt, except those constructed by the Army and Navy to care for permanent and temporary installations. There were issues with the Army commandeering the supply of chlorine. The result was inadequate sewage effluent disinfection. New concerns also emerged regarding the integrity of underwater pipelines in the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull.

In 1944, the ISC proposed creating fuel from gasses created in the “digestion” process of sewage discharge. ISC calculated that in the district, 850,000 lbs of sludge was removed daily from 1.5 billion gallons of sewage discharged per day, resulting in 153,000 tons per year. Approximately 9 million cubic feet of gas could be developed each day. Although the plants were removing a great deal of sludge, 720 million gallons were still being discharged into district waters without treatment. It was estimated that the cost of treating another 230,000 lbs of daily sludge was in excess of $120 million.

After the war, work remained slow. In 1947, ISC reported that they took legal action against the joint outlet sewer of Union City, Weehawken, and West New York. For every 100 gallons of clean water entering the New York harbor from that sewer, one gallon of raw sewage was added.

The next year saw some turnaround in that 8 new sewage treatment plants around the area were under construction. Plants chlorinated during bathing season, subsequently, ISC performed investigations from April to October. ISC engineers performed 210 investigations in 1948, triple the number in previous years.

1949 brought renewed energy to ISC, with greatly increased public relations activities, international interest, speeches before community and trade groups, an industrial waste inventory, and examinations of ship pollution. Congress created a federal law, Public Law 845, and appropriated $13,000 for the Industrial Waste Inventory – a five-year effort that would become an ongoing primary function of the ISC.

In the 1950s, ISC focused a large percent of its attention on industrial waste, and pushed through a new era of sewage treatment. The engineers began measuring the amount of water needed for various production lines. For example, 320,000 were required to produce 1 ton of synthetic rubber; 65,000 gallons were used in producing 2000 lbs of steel. In 1952, the ISC hopefully predicted that no raw sewage would flow into district waters by 1959. New sewage treatment plants were completed each year.

The 1960s saw many new pollution abatement projects (53 in 1960 alone). Between 1961 and 1962, legislation authorized and funded ISC to address limited air pollution issues in NY and NJ. In 1963, the Federal Clean Air (although it is the 1970 amendment that forms the backbone of U.S. air pollution policy) and the Federal Water Pollution Acts were passed. A further Federal Water Quality Act of 1967 also affected water pollution control law.

ISC began efforts to address sulfur dioxide in the district’s air. ISC proposed a comprehensive Air Pollution Warning System, proposed a $1.5 million comprehensive NY-NJ study, and developed a Regional Air Pollution Warning System for sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and smoke shade. NYC established 5 continuous monitoring stations.

Prior to the Federal Clean Air Act, between 1952 and 1956, NY and NJ legislatures passed laws authorizing ISC to study air pollution and smoke. Federal approval arrived in 1956. As with most ISC projects, other organizations entered into formal agreements to work with the Commission. For example, the US Weather Bureau, US Army chemical Corps, US Public Health Service and US Bureau of Standards collaborated with ISC to study air pollution in the NY and NJ metropolitan area in the fall of 1957.

ISC developed many methods of air and water quality investigations. One of interest was a mobile, inexpensive air sampling unit used to investigate sources of sulfur dioxide pollution originated in one state and affecting another. ISC also developed a mobile lab for analyzing wastes in the field, training treatment plant personnel, and other efforts to improve plant operations.

There were new policies enacted regarding air pollution (odor) complaints. The ISC received the notifications, which they traced 24-hours daily and later referred to the proper state agency for abatement. The bulk of the complaints in the late 1960s originated along the NY-NJ border and in the Staten Island area. Additionally, ISC’s Committee on Interstate Air Pollution proposed a Comprehensive Air Pollution Survey of the New York-New Jersey Metropolitan Area, with the aim of developing a unified air resource management program.

With regard to water pollution, the ISC and its engineers were the recognized experts in the field, having developed 137 treatment plants and many testing procedures and standards by 1966, and became advisors for the public on a variety of topics including the monumental costs accrued in establishing effective water pollution abatement programs. A major new plant, which would provide secondary treatment for 300 million gallons of water per day of raw sewage, the Newtown Creek Pollution Control Project, was completed in 1967 at a cost of $165 million. Newtown Creek would dramatically improve the quality of water in New York Harbor and the Narrows, treating 300 million gallons per day of raw sewage.

Additionally, in 1967, ISC held Raritan Bay and Hudson River Conferences to support the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. ISC also held an Interstate Conference on Boat Pollution. NY Senator John J. Marchi, then the Chair of the NY State Joint Legislative Committee on Interstate Cooperation, moderated the afternoon session. Throughout the years, ISC held many conferences to share research and develop standards, as well as to present papers and make statements on topics covered in its work.

Other water treatment plants constructed during the 1960s include the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority and Linden-Roselle Sewerage Authority. By the end of the 1960s, approximately $1 billion was allocated for waste water discharge treatment in the ISC district. The end of the 1960s also saw the ISC establish the Combined Sewer Survey, a very large scale survey conducted to better control and protect receiving waterways.

In the 1970s, the IEC developed national standards for water oxygenation. The organization also developed standards for allowable solids and bacteria in water. Water pollution control projects (also known as water and sewage treatment plants) continued.

From the 1980s forward, the IEC gave boat tours to dignitaries and others to show how work was done on the water, and where issues occurred and progress was made. There also were several large lawsuits, investigations into the Fresh Kills Landfill, Arthur Kill monitoring, combined sewer overflow investigations and conferences, Long Island Sound studies, and continued work into improving the shellfish waters in the Raritan Bay. The specific litigation included NYC and its operation of the Fresh Kills Landfill, and suits against Hudson County Municipalities: Bayonne, Hoboken, Jersey City, North Bergen, and West New York.

Other work included boat inspection trips (6-hour long rides throughout the district), oil spill reporting and monitoring, participation in the National Estuary Program (including Long Island Sound and New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Studies), and Combined Sewer Overflow Conferences. The IEC added to its air pollution and odor complaint program by coordinating the regional Ozone Health Message System during the summer months. In the areas near Staten Island, more citizen complaints than any other area were lodged. In 1989, ISC closed its Staten Island field office, which resulted in an inability to respond to air pollution complaints.

In 1994, the ISC moved its Columbus Circle laboratory location to the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island campus, where it resides today. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law the name change to the Interstate Environmental Commission. In 2015, IEC moved its headquarters to the CSI campus, as well. The IEC continues its work from Staten Island today.


255 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



The Interstate Environmental Commission Records document nearly 100 years of environmental monitoring of the air and water conditions in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This collection contains laboratory and field records, river and harbor water quality surveys, standards development working documents, legal files for cases in which the IEC was involved, materials on Fresh Kills Landfill, public statements, and many maps of the area. Areas of focus also include air quality and odors, dredged material, floatables, hazardous spills, industrial waste, estuary pollution, sewage, and sludge.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Debra Schiff and Connie Lee

Interstate Environmental Commission Records
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the CSI Archives & Special Collections Repository