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Hurricane Sandy Response

Questions and Answers

 

Children's Health

How can I protect my children after a flood?
Children are different from adults. They may be more vulnerable to chemicals or organisms they are exposed to in the environment.

  • NEVER use portable generators indoors! Place generators outside and as far away from buildings as possible.
  • Clean smooth, hard surfaces such as metal and plastics with soap and water and dry thoroughly.
  • Carefully follow any directions from boil-water alerts. Tap water that has been brought to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute will kill disease-causing organisms. But remember, boiling will not remove or destroy many potentially harmful chemicals.
  • More things you can do to protect children.
Clinician Recommendations Regarding Return of Children to Areas Impacted by Flooding and/or Hurricanes: (PDF) (4 pp. about PDF)

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Contact Information

How do people get help from FEMA?
Individuals can apply for disaster assistance from FEMA by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362  (TTY (800) 462-7585 for people with speech or hearing disabilities)
Find your state emergency office or agency, from FEMA.

How can people get in touch with EPA directly?
EPA has a toll free number: 1-888-283-7626.

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Disaster debris

What should I do with debris from the hurricane?
Disasters can generate tons of debris, including building rubble, soil and sediment, green waste, such as trees and shrubs, personal property, ash and charred wood. How a community manages disaster debris depends on the debris generated and the waste management options available. General info about disaster debris.

What is EPA doing to help with debris management?
In support of FEMA and working closely with federal agencies, states, tribes and municipalities, EPA has been working to help prevent hazardous waste from being disposed of improperly.

EPA coordinated with stakeholders, local and State governments as well as FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard to first assess locations with reported orphaned containers and then to remove orphaned containers if necessary at various locations in New York and New Jersey.

Part of EPA's debris management effort includes retrieving hazardous waste and properly disposing of it. In New York, EPA is assisting the state and the city in assessing and collecting orphaned drums and containers. EPA is also assisting in separating out hazardous waste from other waste at staging areas in New York. These debris management efforts in New York have resulted in the collection of over 119,000 items including drums, propane tanks, cylinders and large and small containers. In New Jersey, EPA assisted the state in assessing and collecting large orphaned drums and containers. Those efforts resulted in a collection of 327 items including drums, cylinders and containers.

EPA worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop and implement a plan on debris removal and worked with New York State and local governments to collect household hazardous waste in Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York. EPA also worked closely with New York City and the Corps of Engineers to set up household hazardous waste collection operations in New York City. EPA conducted curbside pickup of household hazardous waste in New York City neighborhoods impacted by the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. Household Hazardous Waste collection and drop-off was coordinated in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, New York.

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Drinking water and food

How do I disinfect drinking water?
To kill all major water-borne bacterial pathogens, bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute. Boil 3 minutes at elevations above 5280 ft (1 mile or 1.6 km). Read more about disinfecting drinking water

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Flooding

Should I limit contact to flood water?
Avoid contact with flood water due to potentially elevated levels of contamination associated with raw sewage and other hazardous or toxic substances that may be in the flood water. EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services urge everyone in contact with flood waters to follow these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands before drinking and eating.
  • Wash frequently using soap — especially disinfecting soap
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water
  • Cover cuts or open wounds, report all symptoms of illness
  • Keep vaccinations current

Read more about flooding response.

What do I do about water from household wells after a flood?
Do not turn on the pump due to danger of electric shock. Do not drink or wash with water from the flooded well until it is tested and safe to use. Read more about your water well after the flood.

What do I do with my home septic system after a flood?
Do not use the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house. If you have a home-based or small business and your septic system has received chemicals, take extra precautions to prevent contact with water or inhaling fumes. Proper clean-up depends on the kinds of chemicals in the wastewater. Read more about septic system cleanup.

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Hazardous Waste Sites

What has the EPA found so far in its assessments of the hazardous waste sites it is responsible for?
In advance of Hurricane Sandy, EPA secured contaminated sites in the federal Superfund program in New Jersey and New York to protect against potential damage. Since the storm, EPA has been assessing these sites. All 105 of the short-term, removal sites have been assessed and do not pose an immediate threat to public health or the environment. All 142 long-term remedial sites in the area have been assessed. We do not believe that any sites were impacted in ways that would pose a threat to nearby communities. However, we have done additional follow up sampling at the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn, New York, the Newtown Creek site on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, New York and the Raritan Bay Slag site in Laurence Harbor and Sayreville, New Jersey.

What is EPA doing to protect those who live near hazardous waste sites impacted by hurricane Sandy?
EPA has assessed both removal and remedial sites in the federal Superfund program to determine what damage Hurricane Sandy may have caused and how that could impact nearby communities. Most of the sites do not appear to have been impacted.  In instances where the EPA has found a potential impact that could will bring people in contact with chemicals, the Agency has conducted further assessment to determine if actions need to be taken to protect human health and the environment. EPA will work with local governments and communities surrounding these sites to keep them informed of progress at these sites.

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Mold

What do I do to clean up mold and what do I wear?
Mold can cause serious health problems. The key to mold control is moisture control. After the flood, remove standing water and dry indoor areas. Remove and discard anything that has been wet for more than 24-48 hours.Who should do the cleanup depends on a number of factors.  Read more from our clean up guidelines and look to the column on the right for what to wear.

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Recovery

What are the major hazards that people need to be aware of in responding to flood waters?
People should avoid contact with flood water because it can contain elevated levels of bacteria associated with raw sewage. It can also contain oil or other hazardous or toxic substances.  The EPA and the CDC recommend that you:

  • Wash your hands before drinking and eating
  • Wash frequently using soap, especially disinfecting soap
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water
  • Cover cuts or open wounds, report all symptoms of illness
  • Keep vaccinations current

What should people do if they see a tank or a drum or container of chemicals?
People should report any tanks, drums or other large containers of chemicals to the National Response Center at 800-424-8802.

How can people clean up their homes in a way that controls mold?
Mold is a common issue after flood waters recede. Take things that were wet for two or more days outside. Items that stayed wet for two days have mold growing on them even if you can’t see it. Take out items made of cloth, unless you can wash them in hot water.  If you are using bleach as a disinfectant, use only one cup of bleach for every gallon of water. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners and wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles and N-95 mask during cleanups.

What should people do if there is a Hurricane-related environmental problem in their community?
Recovery efforts involve every level of government. The first step is that local authorities need to be made aware of problems, including orphaned tanks or drums, oily sheens or chemical smells. Local authorities generally work very closely with states and, in turn, can call in the EPA to respond if necessary. EPA can respond to requests from states in support of FEMA.

What should people do if they find oil in their basements and in their homes or yards?
If you find oil in your home or on your property, it should be reported to your state’s oil spill hotline. These numbers are 877-WARNDEP in New Jersey and 800-457-7362 in New York. People can also contact the EPA directly to receive free help pumping out their basement, contact: EPA: George Zachos, Regional Public Liaison, 888-283-7626.

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Sampling and surveys

What kind of sampling did EPA conduct at contaminated sites?

Contaminated Sites:

In advance of Hurricane Sandy, EPA secured contaminated sites in the federal Superfund program in New Jersey and New York to protect against potential damage. After the storm, EPA assessed these sites. All 105 of the removal sites have been assessed and do not pose an immediate threat to public health or the environment. All 142 remedial sites in the area have been assessed. We do not believe that any sites were impacted in ways that would pose a threat to nearby communities. However, we have done additional follow up sampling at the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn, New York, the Newtown Creek site on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, New York and the Raritan Bay Slag site in Laurence Harbor and Sayreville, New Jersey.

Newtown Creek Sampling:

Newtown Creek, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, is contaminated from more than 150 years of pollution from refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The site was placed on the Superfund list in September 2010.
On November 9, 2012, EPA took two samples in the Newtown Creek area. Samples were taken from the basement of a building on Eagle Street that had been flooded as well as directly from the creek. Levels of bacteria were high. While this type of bacteria becomes inactive over time, these findings reinforce the need for people to protect themselves when cleaning up flood waters that contain sewage and therefore contain bacteria. Additional chemicals that were tested were below levels of concern or not detected. For more details, visit http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/newtowncreek/

Gowanus Canal Sampling:

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York City is contaminated from many years of industrial discharges, spills, storm water runoff and combined sewer overflows. The site was added to the National Priorities List in March 2010. In response to Hurricane Sandy, EPA immediately conducted a visual inspection of the length of the canal and the surrounding area and did not observe sediment on the streets.

On October 31, 2012, EPA took four samples in the Gowanus Canal area. Samples were taken from the ground floors of two buildings that had been flooded as well as directly from the canal. One of the buildings is located at the head of the canal, and the other near the 3rd street turning basin. Levels of bacteria were elevated, as would be expected with water carrying sewage, therefore precautions should be taken when cleaning flood waters. Additional chemicals that were tested were below levels of concern or not detected. For more details, visit http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/gowanus/

Raritan Bay Slag Sampling:

The Raritan Bay Slag Site is located on a beach in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge, in the adjacent Margaretís Creek marsh area, and in a nearby area of Sayreville, New Jersey. The site is contaminated with lead slag, a byproduct of metal smelting. This lead slag was used to construct a seawall and a jetty along the southern shore of the Raritan Bay in Old Bridge and Sayreville.

After Hurricane Sandy, four soil samples were taken in the Laurence Harbor Section of the site on November 3, 2012. Two of the four samples were taken from the public playground area, and the other two were taken from the restricted beach area previously enclosed by the fence.  The EPA compared the results to a concentration established to be protective for residential exposure. Results showed that lead in three of the four samples met this residential limit. Lead in one sample taken in the restricted area of the beach was above the residential limit.

The EPA took additional samples on November 11through 14 and December 20. The EPA collected soil samples from 133 locations on the site.  Lead was identified at concentrations above the residential limit at five locations, but the meaning of these results was inconclusive. On February 20, the EPA collected seven additional samples at a seawall at the site. As of February 27, the EPA was awaiting these latest sampling results for evaluation before determining the appropriate next steps at the site.

Map and Sampling results:
November 11
December 20



Berry's Creek Study Area:

The Berry's Creek Study Area in Bergen County, NJ is contaminated from many years of chemical processing waste and other industrial sources inputs. The site is a study area of the Ventron/Velsicol Superfund site. Prior to the hurricane, several marsh sediment pilot studies commenced. While there was significant flooding in the area, the test plots were virtually undisturbed, indicating a stable sediment environment. For more details, visit http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/berryscreek/index.html

Horseshoe Road/Atlantic Resources:

The Horseshoe Road Site and the adjacent Atlantic Resources Corporation Site are both located on the south shore of the Raritan River in Sayreville, New Jersey. The sites were contaminated with waste material from industrial facilities starting in the 1950s and going through the mid 1980s. Contamination from both facilities impacted site soils and have entered the adjacent marsh and Raritan River. EPA visited the site on two occasions shortly after the hurricane to ensure that soil clean-up work and wetland restoration completed in 2009 was not damaged, and to survey site impacts. None of the previous work was damaged and none of the impacts appear to pose a threat to human health or the environment. EPA is currently working on a survey of sediments in the marsh and river to determine if any of the design conditions for the upcoming sediment clean-up have been altered significantly. For more details, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/horseshoe/ and http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/atlanticresources/

What kind of water sampling is EPA doing?

Newark Bay/NY Harbor Sampling Results:

On November 29, 2012 EPA’s boat, ‘The Clean Waters,’ was used to collect water samples in Newark Bay and New York Harbor at the request of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Ten (10) samples of harbor and bay water were collected to determine concentrations of bacteria from the releases of raw or partially treated sewage from the storm-damaged Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority.

The samples were analyzed for fecal coliform, a common group of bacteria associated with human waste. The established limit in New Jersey is 14 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of water for shellfish harvesting. Fecal coliform levels all ten (10) of EPA’s samples were above this limit.  EPA strongly advises that people avoid activities that could bring them into direct contact with the waters in Newark Bay and New York Harbor.
Results of the EPA sampling and sampling conducted directly by NJDEP to date can be found using the following link: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bmw/sandynyharbor.html

Hudson River/Yonkers, N.Y. Wastewater Treatment Plant Sampling Results:

On November 16, 2012, EPA’s vessel, ‘The Clean Waters,’ was used to collect water samples in the Hudson River in the area surrounding the Westchester Yonkers joint Wastewater Treatment Plant outfall. The EPA collected 7 samples of water to determine concentrations of bacteria and dissolved oxygen from releases of raw or partially treated sewage from the storm-damaged sewage treatment system in Westchester County.

The samples were analyzed for fecal coliform, a common group of bacteria associated with human waste, and dissolved oxygen. The established limit in New York is 200 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of water for secondary contact such as boating, fishing, etc. The fecal coliform level of one EPA sample was above this limit. The EPA strongly advises that people avoid activities that could bring them into contact with the waters in and around the Westchester Yonkers Sewage Treatment Plant. Should contact occur, wash with soap and water. For more information view our fact sheets: http://epa.gov/sandy/factsheets.html
Levels of dissolved oxygen were above 5 milligrams per liter, which is generally accepted as being protective of estuarine life. Results of the sampling can be found at: http://epa.gov/sandy/pdf/WestchesterYonkersWWTPNov152012.pdf

Nassau County/Bay Park Water Sampling Results:

On November 15, 2012, EPA’s vessel, ‘The Boston Whaler,’ was used to collect water samples in the East Rockaway, Hog Island and Reynolds channels adjacent to Island Park and Long Beach, New York. The EPA took 11 samples of water to determine concentrations of bacteria and dissolved oxygen from releases of raw or partially treated sewage from the storm-damaged Bay Park sewage treatment system in Nassau County.

The samples were analyzed for fecal coliform, a common group of bacteria associated with human waste, and dissolved oxygen. The established limit in New York is 200 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of water for secondary contact such as boating, fishing, etc. Fecal coliform levels from EPA’s samples were below this limit. The EPA strongly advises that people avoid activities that could bring them into contact with the waters in and around the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant. Should contact occur, wash with soap and water. For more information view our fact sheets: http://epa.gov/sandy/factsheets.html
Levels of dissolved oxygen were above 5 milligrams per liter, which are generally accepted as being protective of estuarine life. Results of the sampling can be found at http://epa.gov/sandy/pdf/NassauCountyNov152012.pdf

Raritan Bay/MCUA Sampling Results:

On November 14, 2012, EPA’s vessel, ‘The Boston Whaler,’ was used to collect water samples in the Washington Canal, Raritan River and upper Raritan Bay at the request of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The EPA took 12 samples of river and bay water to determine concentrations of bacteria and dissolved oxygen from the releases of raw or partially treated sewage from the storm-damaged Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA) sewage treatment system.

The samples were analyzed for fecal coliform, a common group of bacteria associated with human waste, and dissolved oxygen. The established limit in New Jersey is 14 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of water for shellfish harvesting. Fecal coliform levels from EPA’s samples were above this limit. EPA strongly advises that people avoid activities that could bring them into direct contact with the waters in and around the tidal Raritan River/Washington Canal and Raritan Bay area. Should contact occur, wash with soap and water. For more information view our fact sheets: http://epa.gov/sandy/factsheets.html

Levels of dissolved oxygen were above 5 milligrams per liter, which are generally accepted as being protective of estuarine life. To view a map and the results, visit www: http://www.epa.gov/sandy/pdf/RaritanBaydata20121116.pdf

Sandy Hook to Seaside Heights Sampling Results:

On November 6, 2012, EPA’s boat, ‘The Clean Waters,’ was used to take water quality samples in coastal waters of New Jersey from Sandy Hook to Seaside Heights. There were 16 samples of ocean water collected 1-3 miles off the coast to determine potential impacts from the releases of raw sewage as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

The samples were analyzed for Enterococcus, a common group of bacteria associated with animal and human waste. The established limit for swimming is 104 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters of water. Enterococcus levels from EPA’s samples were below this limit. Results of the sampling can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bmw/sandyatlanticocean.htm

Ironbound/Passaic River Sampling

The Passaic River has a long history of industrialization, which has resulted in degraded water quality, sediment contamination, loss of wetlands and abandoned or underutilized properties along the shore.  The lower Passaic River is considered part of the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, which is a source of dioxin contamination to the river.

Residences and commercial buildings near the Passaic River were impacted by flood waters during Hurricane Sandy.  On November 17, 2012 EPA obtained four samples of flood water from three residences adjacent to the river, in the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ.  The samples from two of the residences were collected on or about October 29, 2012 by the residents themselves and given by them to EPA; the sample from the third residence was collected by EPA personnel on November 17, 2012.  On November 19, 2012 one further sample was taken from the Passaic River itself.  A total of five samples, including a duplicate sample taken as a quality control, were collected for analysis. 

The samples were analyzed for bacteria and 189 different chemicals, including Metals, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), Gasoline Range Organics (GROs), Diesel Range Organics (DROs), Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH), and Dioxins/Furans.  Due to insufficient sample volume, only bacterial analyses were performed on two of the three residential samples.

Levels of bacteria were high.  While this type of bacteria becomes inactive over time, these findings reinforce the need for people to protect themselves when cleaning up flood waters. Fact sheets detailing precautions that should be taken when cleaning flood waters can be found at http://www.epa.gov/sandy/factsheets.html.

Additional chemicals that were tested were either not detected, or were below levels of concern, with the exception of arsenic, iron, and lead. Arsenic and iron slightly exceeded drinking water standards, while concentrations of lead were about 20 times higher than the drinking water standard.  Drinking water standards are established to protect people drinking two liters of water daily for 70 years.  Because people were not drinking the floodwater, and had minimal contact with it for only a limited time, EPA does not consider these levels to be cause for concern.

Concentrations of chemicals in the Passaic River were all below drinking water standards. Results of the sampling at are http://www.epa.gov/sandy/pdf/ironboundsummary.pdf. For more details, also visit http://www.epa.gov/region2/passaicriver/

Sampling of Rockaway Beach Sand

During Hurricane Sandy, the storm surge carried a large volume of sand from Rockaway Beach onto nearby roadways and yards. Shortly after the storm, New York City began removing the sand from these areas. The sand has been temporarily stored on the parking field of Jacob Riis Park in Queens, New York.

New York City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are planning to return the sand temporarily stored at Jacob Riis Park to Rockaway Beach and use it to build up a sand barrier underneath the boardwalk.  New York City requested that EPA sample the sand for the presence of chemical contaminants to determine if it could be beneficially reused.

On November 16, 2012, at the request of New York City, EPA took samples from one of the large piles of sand temporarily stored at Jacob Riis Park.  EPA analyzed the samples for the presence of 172 different chemicals within the following categories: volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, PCBs and pesticides.

The analytical results were reviewed for ecological and human health risks.  Pollutants detected in the Rockaway sand samples were compared to New York State and EPA ecological and human health benchmarks for cleanups of contaminants in soil. The chemicals tested were below levels of concern or were not detected. 

EPA shared these results with New York City and with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. NYSDEC has approved the sand for beneficial reuse. 

The analytical results can be found at: rockawaysandsummary-12-5-12.xlsx (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, 67KB) or rockawaysandsummary-12-5-12.csv (CSV comma-delimited spreadsheet, 12KB).

Is EPA using a plane in the hurricane Sandy response efforts?
The Agency has also used its airplane, Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT), to survey barrier islands and inner coastal waters of both New Jersey and New York. These flights aided in determining where response needs are located. General info about ASPECT.

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Water Utilities

What is EPA doing to help water utilities? 
New Jersey:
In response to requests from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and municipalities, EPA is providing assistance in assessing drinking water and wastewater facilities across the state. EPA has assessed 40 drinking water facilities and 23 wastewater treatment plants. Of these facilities, two wastewater treatment plants requested further assistance from EPA, and no drinking water facilities requested EPA assistance. EPA is providing assistance to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, New Jersey and the Middlesex County Utility Authority in Sayreville, New Jersey.

  • The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission receives sewage and industrial waste from 48 municipalities in and around Newark. It is the fifth largest wastewater treatment plant in the nation. During the storm, the plant was flooded and lost electricity. On October 31, 2012, power was restored. EPA is working in partnership with state and federal agencies to remove wastewater from the plant and find environmentally safe solutions for sludge disposal until the plant is back in full operation.
  • During Hurricane Sandy, the Middlesex County Utility Authority lost power to its water utility intake pump. On November 6, 2012, power was restored. EPA is working with the utility and the state to fix damaged equipment.

New York:
In response to requests from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and municipalities, EPA is providing assistance in assessing drinking water and wastewater facilities across the state. To date, EPA has assessed 40 drinking water facilities and 12 wastewater treatment plants. None of these facilities required additional assistance from EPA.     

Sampling Results for Drinking Water Wells on Shinnecock National Lands:
At the request of the Shinnecock Nation on Long Island, the EPA sampled three drinking water wells located on Shinnecock Nation land on November 10, 2012. The samples were analyzed for bacteria, turbidity and nitrates. Results from these samples show that the water from the wells meets New York State drinking water and groundwater standards. For results, visit http://www.epa.gov/region2/nations/pdf/ShinnecockDW.pdf

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