As the year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy passed, it is a good time to look at the long term environmental impacts of the storm as well as the actions taken by state agencies to deal with the aftermath. An article written in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a monthly journal published with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discusses the impacts.
In the short-term, air quality and water pollution were big concerns. Power was knocked out to a number of sewage treatment plants. Flooding and loss of power were major health concerns in the weeks following the storm.
The biggest long-term impact determined so far has been mold damage. According to EHP, “indoor exposure to mold has been linked to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people, and with exacerbation of symptoms in people with asthma”. It is an expensive and time-consuming process to completely rid a home or building of mold, which could pose future problems if remediation is not handled properly.
I recently attended the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Annual Regulatory Update Conference, where the actions taken after Sandy were discussed. Mary Jo Aiello, the Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Management for the NJDEP presented the topic. The immediate needs following Sandy included insuring the safety of nuclear power plants, securing fuel waivers, and insuring adequate solid waste management availability. Following these actions, debris removal efforts and shifting staff resources were also high priorities.
Aiello also spoke on the challenges faced after Sandy including:
- Communication issues (regulated community, municipalities, NJDEP staff)
- Power outages/phone outages/internet issues
- Extent of the damage was unknown
- Two Resource Recovery Facilities were out of service
- Diesel fuel shortages at landfills and transfer stations.
In September of 2013, Jersey City was awarded a nearly $1 million grant to assist with environmental investigations related to Sandy. The money will be used to monitor the health impacts of Sandy, with an emphasis on blood lead screening.
The full picture of the environmental impacts of Sandy is not yet known. New information is sure to be discovered as more research is completed.