Toxic Brew of Chemicals Abound in Wake of Superstorm Sandy
By Paul E McGinniss
In addition to the many lives lost, houses burned, buildings flooded, coastlines ravaged and families displaced, there's a toxic brew of chemicals polluting local waterways.
On Monday night, it was reported that 350,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into Arthur Kill, a waterway that separates Staten Island, New York and New Jersey. The spill occurred after a storage tank burst at a Woodbridge, New Jersey facility owned by Motiva Enterprises LLC, a joint venture of Shell and Saudi Refining Inc.
The AP states, and NY/NJ Baykeeper Debbie Mans confirmed, that secondary containment [walls and berms] around the tanks seems to have captured much of the spill, so apparently only a portion of it went into the Arthur Kill, not all of it. According to the AP, Woodbridge, New Jersey environmental officials report 336,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled after a storage tank was lifted and ruptured by superstorm Sandy's surge.
The Coast Guard says all the spilled oil is believed to be contained by booms put in the water. Coast Guard spokesman Les Tippets says a secondary tank caught most of the oil and that the liquid that escaped moved into the Arthur Kill.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese says the company reported the spill and hired contractors to clean it up.
“While secondary barriers and quick Coast Guard response appear to have captured much of the spill, Shell and Saudi Refining must now be held responsible for the cleanup and any environmental damage to the Arthur Kill. Once cleanup and recovery efforts from this storm are complete, New York and New Jersey must make it a priority to expand protections at storage facilities like this, to deal with the ever-increasing risk of similar spills in the future,” said Paul Gallay, Hudson Riverkeeper.
It's not just the Arthur Kill waterway that has been affected by toxic spills from Sandy. The entire region is seeing a toxic fallout, just like New Orleans experienced when more than 11 million gallons of oil were spilled after Katrina.
"The impact of Sandy’s storm surge is enormous, causing widespread pollution of the Hudson River and New York Harbor by a variety of toxic chemicals, including petroleum and fluids from cars and boats; contaminants from flooded subways, roads, parking lots and tunnels; and contaminants washed from shoreline industrial sites, as well as commercial and residential buildings," said Gallay. "Oil sheens and debris have been observed—everything from 55-gallon drums and quart-sized containers of transmission fluid to wrecked boats and swamped vehicles with leaking fuel tanks."
Filmmaker Josh Tickell, director of The Big Fix and New Orleans native, said today, "At the time of Katrina, no one wanted to admit how much oil had been spilled. Official estimates now are maybe only 11 million gallons, but many estimate the total oil spilled because of Katrina at the same amounts as the Exxon Valdez. Most have forgotten that oil spilled during Katrina, and most will forget the oil spilled from Sandy. They will continue to forget until it is in their backyard."
Amy Mall from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brings up yet another major concern when it comes to super storms and water contamination. How safe are fracking and wastewater disposal sites when hit by severe storms?
Toxic fracking wastewater is often stored in open air pits close to homes. Pursuant to the Clean Water Act, these facilities are required to prepare, amend and implement spill prevention plans. But, the NRDC reports in Big Storms and Fracking: What's at Stake, that in Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials visited 120 oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance with the law. A whopping 87.5 percent of sites are an accident waiting to happen.
"This is all increasingly terrifying as Sandy bear[ed] down on the Marcellus region, where there are many open pits filled with fracking and related waste. Because the oil and gas industry is also exempt from our hazardous waste laws, no one knows exactly how dangerous the waste at any particular site might be," says Mall.
"Now that the initial storm has passed, New York and New Jersey are dealing with the dangerous consequences of polluted waterways from raw sewage and industrial chemicals," said Marc Yaggi, excutive director of Waterkeeper Allinace. "Clearly our cities are not ready for this type of superstorm as climate change is leading to more extreme weather than we are prepared to deal with."
It's time our elected officials prioritize climate change and pass the policies that will protect our water, transition our country to relying on clean, renewable energy, and reverse the impacts of global warming.
Paul E McGinniss is The New York Green Advocate. He is a green building consultant and real estate broker in New York. He is pretty much obsessed with all things environment and has lately become a resiliency addict.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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