By Sophia Kelley
Hurricane Sandy is the first emergency response that I have been involved with since coming to the EPA and the experience has given me a new appreciation for the level of commitment and dedication of my colleagues. We, like thousands of others in the New York/New Jersey area, are continuing our efforts to recover from the impacts of the super storm. While all of us have been affected to some degree, EPA’s on-scene coordinators and other emergency responders reported to work and spent long days helping others rather than attending to their own homes that may have been damaged or lacked power. In addition, they often face hazardous situations while assessing chemical or oil spills and abandoned fuel tanks.
In emergency situations, the EPA typically works in collaboration with the lead organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and with state and local governments to help protect public health and the environment before, during and after the event. From overflight surveys of the storm-damaged areas to supervising emergency scuba operations repair of damaged equipment at a wastewater treatment plant, the EPA has been involved in Sandy recovery efforts from all angles. For daily updates on our work, see: http://epa.gov/sandy/response.html.
My role has been more behind the scenes as I am assigned to communication efforts organized out of our response center in Edison, New Jersey. But last Friday I had the opportunity to visit Jacob Riis Park in Queens where the city is staging an enormous amount of the hurricane wreckage in what used to be the parking lot. Between two staggering towers of fetid debris, a battered green sign states, “This Way to the Beach.” A year ago I visited that very beach with my friend and played in the sand with her two little girls. I wonder if we’ll be able to return next year.
Now the sand is piling up in the parking lot. The storm deposited enormous quantities of sand in city streets. The city has cleared it and has possible plans for its beneficial reuse. Rather than simply carting it away with the other debris to a landfill, the idea is to sift the sand and then potentially use it at other locations. The EPA is assisting the city by sampling the sand to make sure it meets the criteria for reuse.
Since the storm the EPA has also been collecting household hazardous waste in the New York area. Crews are canvassing flood-impacted neighborhoods and will continue to pick up common household items such as paints, pesticides and household cleaners for separate management and disposal. Preventing such dangerous chemicals from mixing with the other trash is important for long-term disposal of the rest of the storm-related material.
Find out more about our household hazardous waste collection in NYC, visit: http://epa.gov/sandy/hazardouswastepickup.html.
If you have questions related to EPA’s work after Hurricane Sandy, please submit them in the comment section below or call our hotline, 1.888.283.7626.
About the author: Sophia is a public affairs specialist in her first year of the Environmental Careers Program. She has lived in Canada, Texas, Chicago, Poland, Central America, and now resides in Brooklyn. Sophia has an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and recently earned an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Before joining EPA, she worked as a freelance writer, an itinerant teacher, and at a newspaper in Costa Rica.