On Monday October 29, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast with surge of up to 13 feet. Many thousands of people are affected by flood waters which brought sediment (mud, sand, and dirt) into homes and businesses.
The wind and flood waters of Hurricane Sandy left extensive physical damage to coastal communities and also raises public health concerns due to contaminated flood water, unsafe drinking water, compromised sewage treatment plants and mold. Immediate dangers are being assessed on the ground, however risks of contaminated sludge depositing in residential areas may take longer to determine. Areas around known contamination sites, such as Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are of immediate concern and could contain known carcinogens such as arsenic, PCB’s and PAH’s. Away from known contaminated sites, pollutants from flooded household and commercial properties and vehicles could also deposit harmful substances into the environment. We are asking those affected by the flooding to collect samples of deposited dirt for us to analyze for a variety of chemicals.
We are interested in learning what chemicals may be present in deposited sediment. We are already starting to receive samples collected by people in affected areas. The collected samples will be analyzed for a variety of organic and inorganic contaminants including heavy metals, organic compounds from gasoline and other fuels, pesticides and other industrial effluents following similar methods to those used following Hurricaine Katrina in New Orleans and the Louisianna Peninsula (1). Specifically we plan to measure leachable Cadmium, Arsenic, Mercury, Copper, and Vanadium by ICP-MS; pesticides by GC-MS and GC-ECD; benzene, ethylbenzene, and xylene by headspace GC; and PAHs by HPLC or LC-MS.
Alison Spodek Keimowitz is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Vassar College Chemistry Department. She earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of Columbia University in 2006 and had a Fulbright Fellowship in the Microbiology Department at the University of Tel Aviv thereafter. Ms. Keimowitz's research focuses on the behaviors of contaminants in the environment, particularly arsenic, manganese, and other redox- sensitive metals.
Neil Fitzgerald is the Assistant Dean of Science at Marist College and an Associate Professor of Chemistry. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Massachussetts in 1999. He joined Marist in 2001 after a working for a year at Barnard College. Dr. Fitzgerald’s research interests involve improvement of atomic analysis methods including the use of flow-through and microwave energy. He is also interested in the analysis of chemical contaminants in the environment.
Project outcome and impact of result
We plan to post results from the study on a website (2). More detailed results will also be published in a scientific journal. Any significant contamination sites will be reported to the EPA.
The results of this study will determine the extent of any comtamination deposited as a result of flooding from Hurricane Sandy. By surveying flooded areas we can identify hotspots that may need further investigation and cleanup by the EPA. We may also be able to provide information to individuals who may be concerned about possible exposure. Knowledge of this type will also be useful for preparing for future flooding events in the region which are predicted to become more prevalent.
Assistant Dean of Science/ Associate Professor of Chemistry, Marist College
Poughkeepsie, NY, USA