Halloween's Toxic Troubles

Share This Post

This Halloween, Hurricane Sandy left behind toxic troubles from sewage and flooded hazardous waste sites in the New York City area. Huffington Post reported that, “Left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the toxic stew may threaten the health of residents already dealing with more direct damages from the disaster. “Normally, sewer overflows are just discharged into waterways and humans that generate the sewage can avoid the consequences by avoiding the water,” said John Lipscomb of the clean water advocacy group Riverkeeper. “But in this case, that waste has come back into our communities.”

One particular concern is the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, which abuts a 1.8 mile canal that was recently designated a Superfund cleanup site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to a legacy of industrial pollution and sewage discharges. While a storm surge of up to 11 feet had been predicted, the confluence of Sandy and a full-moon high tide exceeded expectations: Waters rose a record 13 feet in New York Harbor. Judith Enck, regional administrator for the EPA region that includes New York, told The Huffington Post that preparations for such a pollution event are difficult regardless of how accurate the weather forecast. “Little can be done in the hours or days in advance of major storms that were experienced last night,” said Enck. “Instead, multi-year improvements need to be made. The situation illustrated the need to clean up urban waters and the benefits of a comprehensive Superfund cleanup.” The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.

While a storm surge of up to 11 feet had been predicted, the confluence of Sandy and a full-moon high tide exceeded expectations: Waters rose a record 13 feet in New York Harbor. A similar post-Sandy scene played out at New York City’s other Superfund site, Newtown Creek, a waterway that forms the border between Brooklyn and Queens. Combined sewage overflows, so-called CSOs, are also nothing new for New York City. A number of older U.S. communities — including a number of East Coast cities affected by Sandy — sit atop antiquated plumbing that carries sewage, industrial wastewater and rainwater together to treatment plants. As little as a quarter-inch of rain can be enough to overburden the multi-use pipes in New York City and trigger a CSO, according to Riverkeeper. “What happened last night in terms of CSO releases is what happens chronically in wet weather events throughout the year,” said Lipscomb, pointing out that 27 billion gallons worth of the mix spills into New York Harbor every year. “You can think about this like an Exxon Valdez accident, but instead of there being one contaminant it’s a zillion contaminants — from floatables to dissolvables to containers of contaminants — and instead of one location, there’s a zillion point sources,” Lipscomb said. “This is a stunning pollution event. I don’t think the harbor has ever taken a hit like today.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/hurricane-sandy-sewage-toxic-_n_2046963.html

More To Explore

The Urban Heat Island Effect

By Leanna Theam. I grew up in the suburbs of sunny Southern California then moved to the opposite end of California to a small college