Hurricane Sandy reminds us about the dangers of raw sewage

Posted by Matt Buchanan

New Jersey Sewage Back-upHurricane Sandy wreaked havoc as it hit the Eastern Seaboard and spread into mid-America. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Eighty people have been reported killed. And now that the calm appears once again in control, we must look at how best to deal with the massive damage. One of the first items that needs attention is how to rid our basements and subways of the raw sewage, industrial chemicals and assorted debris that poses a very real threat.

In normal times, sewer back-ups are routinely diverted into waterways. Humans should be made aware of what’s happening, but the sewage doesn’t stay long in the water and people just need to avoid contact. A situation in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood exemplifies how a Superfund clean-up site can be made more dangerous by flooding water.

Water rose a record 13 feet in New York Harbor. Much of that over-flow ran across old industrial properties already under federal reclamation processes. The flooding poured contaminated water into basements, making them virtually unlivable. The industrial pollution and sewage discharges associated with the EPA clean-up site present the threat of serious health problems. The toxins contained in those back-ups are dangerous and must be avoided. Brackish sea water is a great ally to New Jersey sewage back-ups. The multitude of bacteria and other contaminants thrive in the liquid environment and remain vital until actually removed. The one hope with Hurricane Sandy is that there was enough flooding to at least dilute the water for long enough to pump it back into the ocean. A “zillion” or so toxic stew contaminants will continue threatening people until all the water is moved out.

New York Hurricane SandyWhat Sandy did to sewage treatment plants has yet to be fully disclosed. In those areas where the sewage plants have been compromised by flooding or fire people are more at risk. They can begin exhibiting symptoms of ailments associated with gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and nausea. It’s also wise to clean out any mold that might have accumulated because of the flood. Various molds can cause asthma and allergies to worsen the situation. People living in New York City did dodge one bullet. Their drinking water sources are largely away from the city. That kept water supplies flowing without danger of contamination. But New Yorkers do have a live problem—rats! The vermin scrambled free of the flooded tunnels and basements. The diseases they carry are bad for humans. Steer clear of them and the garbage they eat.

Your property insurance agent will be an important figure as you go about restoring home and/or business. Listen to what he has to say and then try to exceed what he recommends needs to be done. This is going to be a troublesome time for insurance companies. The billions of dollars they have to pay out will force them to conduct rigid inspections as they try to avoid taking too much of a loss. It’s up to you to help make the best of this situation.


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About Matt Buchanan

I grew up in Irving, TX and left for Nashville, TN for college. After college I lived in Washington, DC and then in Cairo, Egypt. After coming back to the states, I spent a couple of years back in Dallas before moving with my wife to Denver!
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