Hurricane Sandy took a heavy toll on sewage treatment plants throughout NYC and the surrounding area, resulting in an unfathomable amount of untreated sewage pumping into surrounding waterways. Six sewage plants in the New York region shut down completely during the storm, and weeks later some were still dumping untreated sewage into the water. Today the Times files a must-read dispatch from the sprawling Bay Park plant on Long Island, off Hewlett Bay near the NYC border. Here some 40 percent of Nassau County's sewage is treated—and it's where "the largest sewage release in the history of Long Island" occurred.
The Times reports that during the 50 hours that Bay Park was shut down, 200 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Raritan Bay and New York waterways. The EPA has detected dangerously high levels of fecal chloroform, and is urging everyone to avoid contact with the water and to abstain from eating shellfish. The nearby town of Baldwin was particularly affected by the catastrophe, and the Times reports:
In one low-lying neighborhood, a plume of feces and wastewater burst through the street like a geyser... The smell of excrement still hung over the tidy neighborhood this week as workers in white hazmat suits tried to decontaminate homes. Sewage, mixed with four- to five-foot-high floodwaters, infiltrated floors and walls, and many homes must be stripped to their wooden frames to be fully decontaminated.
Residents said they were unsure whether their homes could be salvaged, or even whether they were safe to enter. If allowed to remain in walls and between floorboards, raw sewage can breed diseases like salmonella, hepatitis A and giardia, said Vince Radke, a sanitarian at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
For reference, here's video of one of those fecal geysers in Baldwin:
Read the whole upsetting article for yourself. The takeaway is that officials estimate that it will take $1.1 billion just to repair treatment plants, and then an untold sum to prepare them for future hurricanes. Let's not forget that Sandy was just a Category 1 storm. John Cameron, an engineer who specializes in wastewater-treatment facilities and is the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, tells the Times, "There is no Band-Aid for this. This is the new normal."