During the fall of 2012, the northeastern U.S. endured what’s considered the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the country. Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and other states. Government experts estimated that up to 12 inches of precipitation fell between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31. By Nov. 30, more than 100 people died.
In the aftermath, citizens had to deal with extensive flood cleanup. However, there’s more to worry about than water damage in the buildings. The actual flood waters themselves may have carried toxic waste away from isolated sites and into residential areas, increasing the risks for asbestos exposure and other hazards. News12 New Jersey recently caught up with the city of Little Ferry, where health experts warned residents about the new dangers that may be lurking in their soil.
Contaminants may be ‘entering the food chain’
The residents of Little Ferry are worried because during Hurricane Sandy, flood waters coursed through the neighborhood from areas that are deemed Superfund sites. Superfund sites are places that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dubbed worthy of attention as a cleanup site due to the presence of toxic materials, including asbestos. These are often the locations of former industrial complexes.
Even after the water receded, residents are still concerned about what may have been left behind in their soil.
Here’s what homeowner Regina Coyle told News12 New Jersey about her vegetable garden:
“I’m afraid of the lead, I’m afraid of the possible arsenic, those kinds of things entering the food chain.”
Furthermore, the environmental group Climate Central estimated that Hurricane Sandy spread 5 billion gallons of raw sewage throughout New Jersey alone.
Government and environmental groups offered conflicting accounts of how genuine the health threats from the soil are. The EPA said that toxin-tainted soil at the Superfund sites was confined to areas that were off-limits to the public, but conceded that this was only based on visual inspections rather than lab tests. Meanwhile, the company RTK Environmental Group warned the news source that soil samples at different sites found contamination levels that are triple what’s acceptable.
There’s disagreement over the value of soil testing in this case because the flood waters covered a wide area, and academic experts warn that normal test results may not cover all the grounds. In the meantime, Bergen County Health officials advise gardeners to grow their vegetables using potted soil in containers raised off of the ground.
Remember these other cleanup tips
During any disaster that involves property damage – flooding, storms, earthquakes, fires and so on – it’s important to remember that debris of any sort may be tainted with asbestos. Handling this waste can increase the risk for fatal illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma.
If you suspect a building or house damaged in a disaster contains products tainted with asbestos, contact your local public health authorities to let them know. If the asbestos is still in your house, they can advise you on the best way to take care of it, which may involve either repairing it or removing it – two processes that you shouldn’t attempt to do on your own. Containing the asbestos usually involves sealing or covering the products within a leak-free material.