(NaturalNews) Embattled with several feet of flood waters in some areas, persistent power outages, and rot and decay throughout tattered streets, many areas of New York and New Jersey that were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy are also now suffering the consequences of a massive influx of toxic waste, sewage, and chemicals in the storm's aftermath, according to reports.
When the flood waters began to rise, so did all sorts of industrial pollution, sewage discharge, and other toxins that have been accumulating for years in waterways, soils, and old industry sites. Chemicals and pollutants that otherwise would have flowed out into the harbor or ocean ended up backing up into residential neighborhoods, busy streets, subway depots and elsewhere, where they now seriously threaten public health.
"Normally, sewer overflows are just discharged into waterways and humans that generate the sewage can avoid the consequences by avoiding the water," said John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper, a clean water advocacy group, concerning the issue. "But in this case, that waste has come back into our communities."
One particular neighborhood in Brooklyn, known as Gowanus, was of particular concern following the storm because it reportedly sits aside a 1.8-mile canal that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated a "Superfund" cleanup site, which means it has a long history of industrial pollution. Much of that area experienced dramatic flooding, which caused many of those chemicals to spread into streets, warehouses, basements, and even homes throughout the area.
"Little can be done in the hours or days in advance of major storms that were experienced last night," said Judith Enck, regional administrator for the EPA region that includes New York, to the Huffington Post about the difficulties of preventing this type of public health threat. "Instead, multi-year improvements need to be made. The situation illustrated the need to clean up urban waters and the benefits of a comprehensive Superfund cleanup."
Disease already spreading in response to Sandy's devastation
But the first domino may already have fallen, as illness breakouts are already reportedly occurring throughout the region. A highly-contagious stomach virus, for instance, is reportedly spreading throughout some of the schools in the New York area that are now being used as emergency relief centers for those whose homes were destroyed following the storm.
The region is also now hobbling through a new wave of power outages and infrastructure problems following the arrival of what The Weather Channel has dubbed "Winter Storm Athena," which ABC News is reporting has added an additional 200,000 households to the roughly 550,000-or-so that were already without power as a result of Hurricane Sandy. And just like with Sandy, Athena could very well present its own set of public health problems, should wastewater treatment plants, sewers, and other water discharge routes become impeded.
"We lost power last week, just got it back for a day or two, and now we lost it again," said John Monticello of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, to the Associated Press reporters about the effects of the latest nor'easter to hit following Sandy. "Every day it's the same now: turn on the gas burner for heat. Instant coffee. Use the iPad to find out what's going on in the rest of the world."