Sandy slammed local ecosystems, leaving an environmental disaster in its wake. Debris clogs waterways, oil sludge stews in Jamaica Bay, and the water in Breezy Point is completely undrinkable.
“We woke up in a new world,” said Dan Hendrick, a spokesperson for the New York League of Conservation.
The environmental expert, now filming a documentary about Jamaica Bay, said Sandy left both short- and long-term damage, ranging from trash in the water ways to obliterated ecosystems. A major, immediate issue — oil spills — stems from Broad Channel’s heating systems operating on oil rather than natural gas.
“[The oil] will disperse with time but it was something that had a very strong, localized impact on Broad Channel,” said Hendrick.
The Rockaway Wastewater Treatment Plant also suffered severe damage from the storm, said Hendrick. Ten of the city’s 14 waste-water treatment plants and more than 40 sanitary sewer pumping stations were damaged by Sandy.
Experts speculate the storm tainted the water in Breezy Point, which is served by a distribution center isolated to the area that operates separate from New York City’s water system.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is urging Breezy Point residents to avoid drinking or even wading in the water unprotected. In certain areas, water has been restored for fire fighting purposes. However, DEP officials condemn drinking the water, even after boiling. According to a DEP spokesperson, the agency is working alongside the Department of Health to ensure people avoid bodies of water.
“Residents should wash their hands and practice proper hygiene if they come into contact with the water,” said the spokesperson.
Many Breezy Point residents, however, continued to wade barefoot in the water as they moved salvaged belongings from their homes to their cars.
In the next few days, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will conduct tests on the water to determine what could be lurking beneath the surface and to determine the extent of the problem. Safe drinking water has been provided to residents still in Breezy Point at DEP-installed portable water stations.
According to a DEP spokesperson, two treatment plants were forced to shut down temporarily during the storm on Monday, October 29.
“This is a real test for the city, state and federal government,” said Hendrick. “We have decisively moved past deciding whether or not climate change is real. This could be a real opportunity for New York City to really take the lead on climate adaptation.”
Hendrick said rebuilding will become an important defense against future storm damage, preparing infrastructure to withstand violent water and wind. Nearly 500,000 people live in the area surrounding Jamaica Bay.
“Nature is really resilient,” said Hendrick. “I think Jamaica Bay will bounce back.”