Sandy’s Toxic Stew

Oct 31, 2012 by

Hurricane Sandy Spills Sewage, Triggers Toxic Troubles

Posted: 10/30/2012 11:14 pm EDT  HuffPost

Hurricane Sandy Sewage

Stormwater mixed with sewage spilled from the Gowanus Canal in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

NEW YORK — Raw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around New York City on Tuesday.

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.

“Everyone is always concerned about that,” said Jim Gratson, who owns a building by the canal and leases a space where he builds sets for photo shoots.

hurricane sandy flood

Evidence remains of the flood waters that filled Jim Gratson’s basement.

On Tuesday morning, Gratson and his neighbors, most of them members of a small artist community, took turns using electric pumps to flush the chest-high water from their basements. Standing over the cellar steps, Gratson pointed down at the brown, murky soup. Just a block away, he said, the basements, while flooded, looked like they’d escaped the canal’s putrid grasp. “I lent my pump to my friend around the corner and his water is crystal-clear,” said Gratson.

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.

Late Tuesday morning, City Councilmember Brad Lunder, who serves the neighborhoods around the Gowanus Canal, sent an email message to his constituents.

“If you live near the canal, do not touch standing water in the area, or any sediment or debris left by Gowanus flood-waters,” he wrote. “After the storm, the EPA and DEP are committed to work together to conduct any sampling needed to address potential issues of toxicity created by the flooding.”

hurricane sandy brooklyn

Christin Reyes estimated flood damage at his Gowanus vintage-auto upholstery shop exceed $25,000. He’s concerned about the toxins, too.

Unfortunately, said Linda Mariano of Gowanus, people in her neighborhood didn’t have Internet service Tuesday morning to retrieve the email. Before she had read his note, Mariano was walking the streets near the canal scoping out the damage. She was surrounded by families, including young children, doing the same.

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.

Richard Platzman, 30, owns a condo a couple blocks from the creek in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. While his building wasn’t affected, he said, some of his neighbors had been hard hit.

“The fact is that waste from all these industries — metal-working, pencil manufacturing, everything — all this stuff is going to rise up into the dirt, basements, everywhere,” Platzman said, noting Greenpoint’s widely-recognized designation as New York City’s most polluted neighborhood.

Platzman said he expects severe storms in the years ahead to bring more of the same toxic mess. He said he might at least reap the benefit of increased property value, thanks to his location just outside the flood zone.

Nearby, at the the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, all four buildings sustained flooding. One basement took on six or seven feet of water, said Brian Coleman, who runs the center. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was still holding off on pumping the water in anticipation of further flood waters with the next high tide.

“Toxic chemicals are a long-term concern,” said Coleman. “But those of us who work here, we’ve learned to manage our lives around it as best we can. Right now, there are too many other things to worry about.”

Combined sewage overflows, so-called CSOs, are also nothing new for New York City. As The Huffington Post reported in September, 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.

Perhaps the one consolation of Sandy’s storm surge and rain, said Lipscomb, is that the sewage is likely heavily diluted.

But he adds that his concerns for human health — and the water’s health — extend long-term.

“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.”

Scroll down for live blog updates.

Hurricane Sandy
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pedestrians look over a fence at a pile of boats flooded inland at the Varuna Boat Club on Oct. 31, 2012, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses.
Queens, N.Y.
People walk by a destroyed section of the Rockaway boardwalk in the heavily damaged Rockaway section of Queens after the historic boardwalk was washed away during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. With the death toll currently at 55 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the affects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Hurricane Sandy. JFK airport in New York and Newark airport in New Jersey expect to resume flights on Wednesday morning and the New York Stock Exchange commenced trading after being closed for two days.

Queens, N.Y.
Damage is viewed in the Rockaway neighborhood where the historic boardwalk was washed away during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. With the death toll currently at 55 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the affects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Hurricane Sandy. JFK airport in New York and Newark airport in New Jersey expect to resume flights on Wednesday morning and the New York Stock Exchange commenced trading after being closed for two days.
Atlantic City, N.J.
A damaged car is shown in the wake of superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Atlantic City, N.J. Sandy was being blamed for at least six deaths across the state plus power outages that at their peak Monday affected 2.7 million residential and commercial customers.
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11:03 AM – Today

Restaurant Stays Open But Admits: “Yeah, We’re Infested With Cockroaches Right Now”

It’s rare that a restaurant would even want to publicly acknowledge it has a pest problem — after all, no one wants to associate bugs with the food business — however, a California eatery has gone so far as to not only inform its patrons that it’s been infested by German cockroaches, but it also reported itself to the county health department.


11:03 AM – Today

Halloween Rescheduled For Nov.5 In New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday signed an executive order postponing Halloween until Monday, Nov. 5.

In a statement, the governor said he made the decision “to minimize additional risks to lives and the public safety as we begin the process of rebuilding and recovering from Hurricane Sandy.”

Click here for Christie’s full statement.

— Timothy Stenovec, HuffPost

10:57 AM – Today

NYC’s Bellevue Hospital Set To Evacuate

Via ABC News:

New York City’s Bellevue Hospital and its remaining 700 patients have struggled along in the aftermath of Sandy — with failing power, partially lighted halls, no computers, making it difficult to locate patients within the facility, hospital staff told ABC News today.When Sandy hit the New York area Monday night, Bellevue almost lost its generators. At least one got repaired just in time to stave off an evacuation, but it’s been a struggle to keep the hospital going. Now an evacuation is expected — making Bellevue the second of the city’s public hospitals to be taken off line because of precarious and failing conditions that could endanger patient health.

“It’s Katrina-esque in there,” one nurse told ABC News.

Full story here.

10:56 AM – Today

Two Staten Island Boys Separated From Mother During Hurricane Sandy

DNAinfo reports:

SOUTH BEACH — Police dogs and dozens of cops are scouring Staten Island for two boys who became separated from their mother on Father Capodanno Boulevard during Hurricane Sandy Monday evening.

The boys’ and mother’s identities have not been released, but police confirmed they are from Staten Island. They were officially listed as missing Tuesday.

For more, go here.

10:50 AM – Today

PHOTO: President Obama Greets New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie In Atlantic City

superstorm sandy obama christie

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Atlantic City, NJ. Obama traveled to region to take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy, (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

10:43 AM – Today

IRS Extends Tax Deadline To November 7

WASHINGTON — The IRS is giving taxpayers and tax preparers hit by Hurricane Sandy an extra week to file returns and make payments.

The tax agency says the relief will apply mainly to businesses in the storm-impacted Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states whose payroll and excise tax returns and payments are normally due on Wednesday. The deadline will be extended until Nov. 7. No action is required by the taxpayer to obtain the extension.

Read more here.

10:42 AM – Today

Hurricane Sandy Death Toll In New York City Stories Of Heroism, Tragedy Emerge

Hurricane Sandy has killed at least 24 New Yorkers, including an off-duty police officer who drowned rescuing his family, a 13-year-old Staten Island girl who was crushed by debris, and an elderly woman whose oxygen machine lost power, the Associated Press reports.

Officials say they fear the number of lives lost will continue to increase as recovery efforts continue.

According to another Associated Press report from Wednesday morning, at least 59 deaths have already been attributed to the superstorm since it began impacting the East Coast over the weekend. On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the storm had left at least six dead in New Jersey.

In New York City, stories of heroism and tragedy are beginning to emerge.

For the full story, click here.

10:32 AM – Today

Death Toll In New York Continues To Climb

Hurricane Sandy has killed at least 24 New Yorkers, including an off-duty police officer who drowned rescuing his family, a 13-year-old Staten Island girl who was crushed by debris, and an elderly woman whose oxygen machine lost power, the Associated Press reports.

For more, go to HuffPost New York.

10:24 AM – Today

Obama Arrives In AC To Survey Damage

News12NJ @ News12NJ : President Obama has arrived in AC to see storm damage with @GovChristie
10:23 AM – Today

Hurricane Sandy Disrupts Food Distribution

HuffPost’s Christina Wilkie, Alice Hines and Janean Chun report:

Thousands of truckloads of food that were headed for stores in the Northeast are stuck on roadsides and in warehouses following the crippling blow Hurricane Sandy dealt to the nation’s food distribution system.Though the system is struggling in the face of uncertainty, no one who spoke to HuffPost on Tuesday was concerned about short-term food shortages or a storm-related increase in prices across the region. Still, the hurricane demonstrates just how complex and vulnerable the networks are that deliver America’s food supply.

Read the full story here.

10:15 AM – Today

Obama, Bloomberg Agree Presidential Damage Tour ‘Not Appropriate’ Today

markknoller @ markknoller : WH says it decided that it was not appropriate for Pres Obama to make damage tour today – and Mayor Bloomberg agreed.
10:10 AM – Today

Romney: After Sandy, Voters Should Come Together For Red Cross, Then Me

HuffPost’s Elise Foley reports:

After two days without rallies in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney returned on Wednesday to campaigning in full, using his usual stump speech at a Florida campaign stop to criticize the president’s record.And after calling for donations to support the Red Cross, he used the subject of the super-storm to segue to a call for voters to support him, too.

“We love all of our fellow citizens. We come together at times like this and we want to make sure that they have a speedy and quick recovery from their financial, and in many cases, personal loss,” Romney said to supporters at a rally in Tampa, Fla.

“Now people coming together is also what is going to happen, I believe, on Nov. 7,” he continued, referring to the day after the election.

Read the full story here.

10:08 AM – Today

PHOTOS: Monmouth University Remains Closed Until November 5th

Clean-up efforts continue at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ, on October 31, 2012, but the University will remain closed until November 5th.

President Paul Gaffney wrote on the University’s website:

We have no power on campus and one cannot predict how many days it take to restore power. Further, we are still a State Shelter for about a thousand people.

Residents halls remain closed to returning students “due to safety, power and feeding considerations.”

Photos taken on Oct. 30, 2012, show downed trees on Shadow Lawn and in front of the Guggenheim Library.

Monmouth University is located less than 1.5 miles from the Long Branch shoreline, where superstorm Sandy hit Monday evening.

— Brie Dyas, HuffPost

10:07 AM – Today

Gas Prices Continue To Fall Despite Destruction

Despite speculation that Hurricane Sandy could cause a spike in gas prices, Americans are not experiencing much pain at the pump.

Gas prices have dropped 10 cents on average in the past week, according to AAA, the largest national motoring group. On Wednesday, the average price for a gallon of regular gas stood at $3.521, down about 26 cents from a month ago.

Read the whole story here.

— Caroline Fairchild, HuffPost

10:02 AM – Today

Cuomo Calls For ‘Fundamental Re-Thinking Of Our Built Environment’

The New York governor said that hurricane Sandy required a “fundamental re-thinking of our built environment and long term [infrastructure] modifications that we might need to make.

“Protecting this state from costal flooding is a massive, massive undertaking. It is a converstaion that I believe is overdue and A conversation that should begin.”

9:55 AM – Today

Sandy Sufferers Can Head To Gyms For Basic Goods

Need a place to recharge your phone, take a shower or grab some bottled water? If you’ve been affected by Superstorm Sandy, your local gym or fitness club may be a good bet. Many health clubs have been open yesterday and today and while some were offering workouts as usual, others provided shelter from the storm.

Read more here.

9:49 AM – Today

Cuomo: ‘Every Two Years We Have A ‘100-Year-Flood”

Governer Cuomo spoke about climate change in regard to hurricane Sandy.

“Every two years we have a 100 year flood – it’s not prudent to sit here and say ‘it’s not going to happen again'[Climate Change] is a reality that is becoming clearer and clearer to more and more people every day, but do I believe that the nation has arrived at a consensus on this? No.”

9:46 AM – Today

WATCH: NYPD Aviation Makes Rooftop Rescues In Staten Island

NYCMayorsOffice @ NYCMayorsOffice : Watch video of NYPD Aviation making rooftop rescues on Staten Island after #Sandy: via @NYPDnews
9:41 AM – Today

Cuomo: ‘Part Of This Is Recognizing That Climate Change Is Reality’

Speaking at a press conference on the clean-up efforts following hurricane Sandy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said:

“Part of this is recognition is that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, and part of our job as elected officials is to redesign or make modifications [to infrastructure] so that this doesn’t happen again.”

9:39 AM – Today

FEMA Administrator Responds To Criticism: ‘Better To Be Fast Than To Be Late’

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate dismissed criticisms of President Barack Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy lobbed by Michael Brown, who oversaw the disastrous Bush administration response to Hurricane Katrina.

“Better to be fast than to be late,” Fugate said in an interview on NPR Tuesday morning.

Brown, whom President George W. Bush infamously praised for doing a “heckuva job” in the aftermath of Katrina in 2005, told a Denver paper that Obama had acted too quickly in mobilizing relief for Sandy.

Read the full story here.

9:38 AM – Today

City Exec: Westchester ‘Will Meet Federal Disaster Threshold Very Soon’

NYGovCuomo @ NYGovCuomo : #Westchester Cty Exec Astorino: I think we will meet federal #disaster threshold very soon #sandy
9:33 AM – Today

Chris Christie Cancels Halloween

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has now officially postponed Halloween until Monday, citing safety reasons, NJ 101.5 reports.

He said: “I can’t imagine that it’s going to be safe for kids to go around for Halloween tomorrow.”

9:28 AM – Today

Cuomo: Limited Subway Service Above 34th St. Starting On Thursday

New York Governor Cuomo announced that limited subway service will resume tomorrow.

Limited services from Brooklyn into Manhattan are scheduled to begin tomorrow, Cuomo said.

He added that as there is no power below 34th street in Manhattan, that there will be no subway services in the downtown area.

He also said that the East River tunnels have been pumped out.

9:23 AM – Today

‘Limited’ NYC Subway Service To Return Tomorrow

brianstelter @ brianstelter : RT @mattfleg: BREAKING: MTA officials say some limited subway service could return tomorrow. Cuomo briefing soon. #Sandy
9:22 AM – Today

Cuomo: ‘FEMA Has Been Fastastic’

New York Governor Mario Cuomo has praised both FEMA and president Obama at a news conference happening now.

He said “Our function now is to come up with a coordinated plan… to make sure we are all being deployed as effectively as possible.”

He thanked Obama, saying “He has been on top of this situation. I have spoken to him several times myself… Obama has been all over it.”

He added that “FEMA has been fantastic.”

9:12 AM – Today

PHOTOS: Electrical Divide On Williamsburg Bridge

The electrical divide between the Lower East Side in Manhattan and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was clearly visible last night on the Williamsburg Bridge. The photos below show the pitch black Manhattan entrance to the bridge, as well as the mid-point of the bridge where darkness turns to light. The difference between the two areas of town is stark. Power, Internet access, restaurants and bars were plentiful in Williamsburg last night, in contrast to the Lower East Side, where traffic lights were out of service and residents needed flashlights and candles to illuminate their homes.

— Adam Goldberg, HuffPost

williamsburg bridge entrance

williamsburg bridge

9:04 AM – Today

PHOTO: Shaggy The Dog And Owner Rescued By National Guard In New Jersey

animal rescue aftermath sandy

A dog named Shaggy is handed from a National Guard truck to National Guard personnel after the dog and his owner left a flooded building in Hoboken, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Some residents and pets are being plucked from their homes by large trucks as parts of the city are still covered in standing water.

Photo by Craig Ruttle, AP.

8:37 AM – Today

Flooding Damage At Manhattan’s South Ferry Subway Stop

Photos released by the MTA show extensive flooding at the South Ferry subway station in lower Manhattan. The station underwent a $530 million overhaul in 2009, paid for largely with federal September 11 aid funds, according to WNYC.

south ferry subway flooding sandy

south ferry subway flooding sandy

south ferry subway station flooding sandy

(Flickr photos via MTAPhotos)

8:36 AM – Today

$12 Billion Emergency Aid Bill for FEMA To Be Introduced

Rep. Fattah Will Introduce $12 Billion Emergency Aid Bill for FEMA.

From PRNewswire:

“The American people deserve, and insist on, the kind of first-rate recovery response that FEMA can provide,” said Fattah, whose Philadelphia-based district was impacted by the unprecedented hurricane along with major portions of the East and Midwest. “But we cannot do it on the cheap. Congress must step up and provide the federal resources this emergency requires.”Fattah said, “President Obama has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in preparing for this storm and launching recovery efforts. He has worked in close cooperation with governors and mayors throughout the affected areas, and our emergency responders have done their jobs. Now, right now, is the time for Congress to do its job in this crisis.”

Fattah will introduce the funding bill when the House convenes for a brief session Friday. If Congress does not return in special session, its next regular session is Nov. 13.

8:25 AM – Today

POLL: Most Americans Say Climate Change And Natural Disasters Are Related

HuffPost’s Emily Swanson reports:

Climate scientists have warned that more frequent hurricanes may be related to climate change. A new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that half of Americans think that climate change is indeed related to more frequent and severe natural disasters, although they are more divided on whether Hurricane Sandy specifically was related to global warming.

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