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In Sandy’s Wake, Watch Out for Pollution

Potentially contaminated water pooled in the streets could be a health risk

Flooding in Manhattan. Photo: David Shankbone

High water levels, brought about by a combination of pounding rain, a strong storm surge and high tide, caused pollution levels to surge across the East Coast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In Connecticut, sewage overflowed from backed up drains. Across North Carolina, the state health director shut down shellfishing activity. And in New York City, says The Huffington Post, “aw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around” the city.

The New York-based environmental advocacy organization Riverkeeper describes the environmental aftermath of the storm:

The impact of Sandy’s storm surge is enormous, causing widespread pollution of the Hudson River and New York Harbor by a variety of toxic chemicals, including petroleum and fluids from cars and boats; contaminants from flooded subways, roads, parking lots and tunnels; and contaminants washed from shoreline industrial sites, as well as commercial and residential buildings.

Oil sheens and debris have been observed—everything from 55-gallon drums and quart-sized containers of transmission fluid, to wrecked boats and swamped vehicles with leaking fuel tanks. Just about anything that can float is being observed.

One of the main things to watch out for as life resumes is the potential danger in pools of standing water, which may be contaminated by untreated sewage, says National Geographic.

ntreated sewage can introduce bacteria, viruses, and parasites capable of causing a variety of ailments. “With the cool temperatures , these pathogens can survive for months,” she said.”

…Even without directly drinking the brackish water, contaminants can make their way into human bodies, through the air, or even through the faucet. Just walking through open water can infect people with open cuts. Rubbing eyes after touching water can increase ones risk of infection as well.

The best steps to protect yourself, says NatGeo, are to avoid as much of the flood water as you can, to wash your hands regularly and to pay strict attention to any boil-water advisories.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Why We May Not See the Next Sandy Coming
What Should New York City Do to Prepare for the Next Sandy?

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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