Environmental Advocates Fear Toxic Effects Of Sandy's Wrath, Advise Extreme Caution
BY Celeste Katz NY Daily News 11/2/12
Hurricane Sandy left behind an environmental disaster that is adding to the headaches of New Yorkers struggling to recover.
The flood waters that inundated the region mixed together a hazardous stew of oil, industrial chemicals and raw sewage that could leave a lasting scar on the environment and make cleanup more difficult and costly.
“This has blown away all worst-case scenarios,” said Paul Gallay, president of the environmental group Riverkeeper.
Gallay and other advocates are that worried that Sandy’s fury washed away toxic materials from Superfund sites like the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek in Brooklyn.
“It is a pretty serious concern,” said Laura Haight, an environmental specialist with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
State and city officials said they are working to address the environmental issues and are urging New Yorkers to avoid contact with standing water left over from the floods.
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens announced Thursday he was dispatching emergency management teams to storm-impacted areas to assist local officials with the clean up.
“The State continues to work to protect communities and vital infrastructure that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.
“All state agencies are ensuring that the State’s response as a whole to the storm is expeditious and effective," Cuomo said.
Officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees Superfund sites, said the Gowanus Canal did overflow its banks.
So far, the state has received word of more than 630 storm-related oil spills and is monitoring the clean up.
The state is also working to eliminate raw sewage flows. Since the storm hit, 10 treatment plants reported discharges of partially treated or untreated sewage into local waterways. Only four of the plants are still reporting discharges.
City officials are also warning people cleaning up flooded homes and businesses to take extra precautions to avoid contact with open wounds and to use detergents and disinfectants in affected areas.
However, they urged New Yorkers to pump out flood waters as soon as possible.
City and state officials, in a move intended to speed the clean up of flood waters, announced they were suspending permit requirements for homes and businesses looking to pump water from flooded properties into the sewer system.
Property owners were urged to take “all reasonable measures” to remove oil and other materials from the water before pumping and to notify the state if they discover significant spills.
...In other words, they weren't prepared for the magnitude of toxic events and they're willing to look the other way for a few days. Not much of a policy.