Hurricane Irene and water quality
Hurricane Irene’s aftermath in N.J.: A witch's brew impacting water quality
Monday, 29 August 2011 17:17
BY JEFF TITTEL
The effects of Hurricane Irene can still be felt throughout New Jersey as flooding occurs and power remains out and our hearts go out to all those impacted by this storm. Since the last time New Jersey has seen such an intense tropical storm or hurricane, our coastal population has increased exponentially. We have thousands of residents living in low lying and flood prone areas, including the Passaic, Delaware, and Raritan River Basins. Overdevelopment in these areas place more and more people and facilities in harm’s way. Water systems are out due to mud, roadways are closed, and enormous amounts of stormwater are polluting our waterways. There are many environmental and infrastructure concerns resulting from flooding, power outages, and other impacts from storms like Hurricane Irene.
There are many serious environmental impacts from flooding. Not only to homes and properties, but what is in the water can be of relative concern. When you get these types of storms, you end up with a witch’s brew of chemicals and pollutants in our waterways. Raw and partially treated sewage, chemicals from industrial facilities, and bacteria could enter waterways and lead to even more problems.
Many of New Jersey’s most hazardous facilities and toxic sites that need to be cleaned up are located in flood prone areas. Many are built on riparian lands or wetland fill. The Bayway Refinery in Linden is a former wetland area. Many superfund sites sit in low lying areas. There are toxic lagoons at many of these current and former chemical sites such as American Cyanamid or National Lead along the Raritan River, which is flooding now. Along the Delaware are the Crown Vantage and Roebling Superfund sites. Along the Hackensack, Standard Chlorine does not have a slurry wall to protect the river. Hetherine Chemical in Paterson and Sandoz in Fair Lawn along the Passaic River will be impacted by flooding.
Contaminated sediment in Pompton Lake from the DuPont site could be washed into the Passaic River.
New Jersey’s industrial past located many of its biggest facilities right along water fronts or in flood prone areas, so when we get this type of flooding the concern is many of these sites will leak toxic chemicals into our waterways.
We are also concerned that many of the sites that have been capped or have institutional controls could break down and release toxic chemicals into environmental given storm surges, heavy winds, and flooding. In Perth Amboy and Jersey City there are housing developments on capped sites which are in the flood plain. In Weehawken there is a housing development on a capped chromium site sitting on filled in former river shallows that is still located in the flood plain. In Edgewater there is a large toxic plume sitting next to the Hudson River. There are many companies throughout New Jersey that work with hazardous chemicals near flood plains. There are barrels of toxic materials and landfills that could be washed out by flooding. Sewer plants which are located in flood prone areas cannot only get flooded but stormwater entering pipes can result in overflows. Combined sewer overflow in major cities during heavy rains can result in sewerage entering waterways in cities like Hoboken.
The New Jersey DEP only has one inspector reviewing institutional controls and caps and ensuring flooding and other impacts do not impact the controls. We have 118 superfund sites, 16,000 contaminated sites, and 7,000 sites that have been remediated, some of which are very complex. There are about 500 toxic sites near our rivers and about 3,500 are located near groundwater sources and 500 near major water supply wells. Flooding and polluted stormwater could result in toxins from these sites entering our waterways.
With thousands of toxic sites in New Jersey we need to make sure DEP goes out and inspects these sites so we do not end with these chemicals in our waterways and that the caps and controls on these sites are not destroyed and these communities are not exposed to potential problems.
Another problem resulting from overdevelopment and failure to protect forests and lands is the tremendous amount of water entering our rivers and reservoirs when it rains. At times like this water supplies cannot be taken directly from some rivers and reservoirs because of the polluted stormwater entering the waterways. Trenton is using back up reservoirs; Jersey American has a boil order because of contamination of water. United Water has had similar problems with some of its systems in the past. Heavy rains bring mud and fertilizer into waterways impacting water quality as well as water supply. Lake Lookout in the Highlands is a muddy mess again and could be susceptible to outbreaks of cryptosporidium. Siltation entering our water is the single largest source of the parasite cryptosporidium in water supply. This could result in a serious, widespread public health problem as the parasite causes intestine infections and has resulted in deaths.
Because of overdevelopment upstream and soil erosion, many of our key water supply sources are vulnerable to flooding. When it rains it pours mud into our waterways which could knock out important water supplies for the people of New Jersey.
Oyster Creek nuclear power station was powered down over the weekend as a result of the Hurricane. The reactor was “cooled” down as a precaution. The plant is vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. Spent fuel is stored above ground at the facilities and could experience problems if there was a power outage and cooling water could not be pumped to storage tanks. NRC officials were on site over the weekend and are reporting that there are no problems but have not powered the plant back up.
Most of New Jersey’s key infrastructure is located in flood prone areas. The impact from flooding can be horrendous to the environment whether it be sewer plants, water treatment plants, toxic sites or chemical facilities. New Jersey’s environment is extremely vulnerable to flooding and we need to do a better job cleaning up toxic sites and flood proofing vital infrastructure.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Re: Hurricane Irene and water quality
The water has been tasting and smelling like mold for a few days. I called United Water and they said it is OK. They flipped the reservoirs a couple of weeks ago and the water is coming from the bottom of it. They are treating it, so this will last for a few more days. According to them it is safe to consume without boiling.
I thought the NJ water could not taste any more disgusting, but here it is....
|flooding, hurricane irene, sierra club, water quality|
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