The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 regulated pollutants in U.S. waterways with the laudable goal of making then-filthy major city rivers “fishable and swimmable” by 1985. Certainly, not all waterways are swimmable even in 2019, but they are much cleaner. Some portions of the Delaware are swimmable based on bacteria levels.
Other portions are not, including where the teens gathered near the defunct Pier 18, also known as Graffiti Pier. Their beach is a spit of dirt amid a concrete harbor that housed rail-yard operations in Kensington’s industrial heyday.
Pollution is far from the only issue. There are good reasons that you rarely see anyone swimming in the urban Delaware. Drowning and being struck by boats and drifting debris are real risks. The city has an ordinance against swimming in areas not designated as safe based on suitable access, currents, river traffic, and other factors. The river is tidal from the Delaware Bay up through Trenton, so currents can be swift and strong.
Photo by rik-shaw 黄包车