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Nov 19

Assessing the Environmental Impact of Hurricane Sandy

hurricaneThe impact of Hurricane Sandy has been felt all over the East Coast, and was largely underestimated by many residents of US cities in the days leading up to the storm’s landfall. Coastal towns and tourist attractions along the New Jersey shore and nearby areas were ravaged by the hurricane’s power. New York City suffered some of the worst effects, including flooding, power outages, and extensive damage to homes. What some people still have yet to understand, however, is the environmental impact of Sandy on these eastern coastal and inland areas. Local ecosystems have felt the effects of the storm as much as people have.

The East Coast of the United States was once home to enormous oyster beds built on gigantic underwater reefs which have significantly dropped off in the wake of the storm. The economic effects of this post-storm consequence are obvious, but there is also an environmental consideration here. Such drastically reduced numbers in a single species present serious problems for ecosystems, and the oyster population has been so significantly disrupted that further effects can be expected for years to come. Oysters are a vital part of the coastal eco-system, and serve to protect the coast by absorbing some of the brunt of powerful offshore waves.

Eastern rivers have been significantly affected by Sandy’s brute force as well. Huge amounts of toxic chemicals have been released into rivers and water systems in New York and other places as a result of the storm. Contaminating substances from industrial and commercial buildings, as well as oil from cars, trucks and boats have been washed into the local water, producing an environmental effect that is as difficult to assess as it is to clean up. Some officials have likened this effect to that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, only differing in the sheer number of different toxic substances leaked into the water by Hurricane Sandy.

Fortunately, some of the effects of Sandy have been less severe than expected. In New York, much of the sewage that could have been lost in the rivers and bays has instead washed inland, into roads and homes. While this may not be enjoyable for the city’s residents, it makes the mess much easier to control from an environmental standpoint. In the Chesapeake Bay further south, Sandy’s damage has actually been less severe than that of past storms. Seabirds caught up in the storm have fared relatively well, and should be able to make their way back to their habitats relatively easily.

In assessing the environmental impact of Sandy, it can be difficult to discern what is science and what is sensationalism. We must pay attention to the facts, and what they are telling us is clear. While Sandy has wrought havoc on residential, commercial, and industrial areas all over the East Coast, one of our urgent concerns should be environmental clean-up. The effects may not have been catastrophic but they have been significant, and must be dealt with directly.

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