WASHINGTON – Superstorm Sandy sent 11 billion gallons of sewage from East Coast treatment plants into streams, canals or roadways, according to a new report.
That total is equal to New York’s Central Park stacked 41 feet high with sewage. Of the total, 3.45 billion gallons was raw, untreated and unfiltered, said the report, which was based on state and federal data and estimates in cases where electronic monitors failed. The remainder was partially treated.
Sandy revealed how vulnerable critical components of our sewer infrastructure are to storms that cause coastal flooding, carry heavy precipitation, and temporarily cut access to the electricity grid, according to the report released Tuesday by Climate Central, a Princeton, N.J., group that advocates for action to stem global warming.
Sewage treatment plants are typically placed in low-lying areas, near water bodies, so that treated sewage can be easily released.
As a result, the plants are vulnerable to storm surges and coastal flooding, which are increasing because of global warming, according to the scientists responsible for the study. Coastal flooding was responsible for 94 percent of the sewage that overflowed.
In many municipal systems, domestic and industrial sewage gets mixed with storm water in a single pipe, and the combined wastewater goes to a treatment plant before being released into rivers or other waterways, according to the report.
Sandy came ashore in New Jersey as a hybrid storm hours after merging with a frontal system off the East Coast. Its surge flooded parts of New York City and the New Jersey shore. In addition to 72 deaths from the storm, 87 people died in its aftermath, the National Hurricane Center said.
Sandy is blamed for destroying or damaging 650,000 homes. It was the second-costliest system since 1900, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to the center.