Friday, December 7, 2012

Environmental Concerns: Hurricane Sandy

Environmentalists worried about millions of gallons of raw sewage

One of the most costly and persistent after-effects of the Hurricane Sandy disaster might be the flood of partially treated and untreated sewage from several east coast sewage treatment plants. Not only might this be a health crisis of epic proportions, it is estimated that it might cost more than $1 billion to repair. Public health officials and environmental advocates are very concerned about the effect millions of gallons of raw sewage will have on the waterways, bays and beaches.

Before sewage is released into oceans and waterways, it is processed in order to remove bacteria, toxins and solids. After Hurricane Sandy, the circuitry in the electrical equipment shorted in numerous treatment plants have caused the sewage to flow into the waterways in its raw and dangerous state.

Sewage plants in the region are nearly all located near sea level and are therefore susceptible to the violence of storm surges. Additionally, many plants were built several decades ago, and were not constructed to support so large a population.

Drinking water was not affected by the damage to the plants, according to officials, because they operate on separate systems. However, restrictions of water usage were imposed in order to alleviate some of the stress on the treatment plants.

Last year, Hurricane Irene caused a raw sewage flooded residential streets and lawns of Barnes Avenue in Nassau County from the loose manhole covers. The county responded by bolting the manhole covers in place, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the pressure of the wastewater running around them led to the erosion of much of the road, and the flood of raw sewage entered homes along with the flood water, causing the residences to be uninhabitable. In order to be decontaminated thoroughly, the homes must be stripped down to the frames. Department of Health officials went door to door distributing pamphlets delineating the health risks of raw sewage, and encouraging residents to vacate until a proper assessment can be performed. Raw sewage can breed salmonella, Hepatitis A and other dangerous diseases, and many homes might not be habitable, ever. Homeowners are still unsure whether the damage to their homes has been evaluated and if they will ever be able to move back in, or even begin the process of restoration.

Raw sewage that is flushed into the ocean will eventually break down, although the shorelines where the sewage was flooded will remain unsafe for recreation or fishing for quite a while. However, sewage that leaks into the sediment will linger for a much longer time.

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