Superstorm Sandy’s 14 foot storm surge was devastating to many wastewater treatment facilities and wastewater pump stations. Raw sewage was released in New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey waterways (and communities, in some cases).
|Passaic treatment plant along Newark Bay|
Fortunately, most of the treatment plants are back online and functioning again. However, wastewater infrastructure problems will take years and billions of dollars to fix, according to a recent New York Times article. Many parts of the metropolitan area along the Hudson in both NJ and NY have old infrastructure and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that routinely discharge raw sewage when it rains. Moreover, a lot of plants and pump stations are located in low-lying coastal areas, which are vulnerable to flooding. Precautions need to be taken to avoid damage and public health risks in future storms. NY/NJ residents also need to take precaution to avoid waters that may pose health risks.
Recent water quality testing indicates that NJ ocean waters and several bay waters are now relatively clean again, with the exception of certain areas described in more detail below. The EPA found low levels on November 6 in NJ northern ocean waters, and the Monmouth County beach testing from Nov. 19 showed fairly low fecal bacteria levels at ocean beaches. DEP has shellfishing data that indicated problems in the northern NJ Bayshore and northern part of Barnegat Bay following the storm, and improved water quality conditions since then.
However, shellfishing is still closed in the northern Bayshore (Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bays) due to water quality concerns. Shellfishing is also still closed in some other areas, such as Barnegat Bay, because shellfish were contaminated by sewage during the storm and have not been able to depurate (or filter out) the potential pathogens yet due to low water temperatures which slowed the shellfish’s metabolism and filtration activity. Shellfishing closures are also still in place in New York.
Also, based on the most recent sampling on November 29 (which is not yet posted online), EPA strongly advises “that people avoid activities that could bring them into direct contact with the waters in Newark Bay and New York Harbor.” EPA is advising people to avoid waters “in and around the tidal Raritan River/Washington Canal and Raritan Bay area.” EPA is also still warning that the public should avoid waters near and around the Bay Park wastewater treatment plant in Nassau County.
Although many waters have improved, please take precaution, avoid areas near where raw sewage was released, and avoid swimming or surfing after heavy rainfall as there still may be health risks present. (Sewage may also be health hazard in homes that were flooded.) Be sure to wash with soap and water if you think you did come in contact with contaminated water. Surfrider has also set up an Ocean Illness Reporting forms. If you swim or surf in NJ, click here. If you are outside of the Jersey Shore Chapter’s Region, click here.