LITTLE FERRY - Last October, Superstorm Sandy caused massive flooding in parts of New Jersey, and those floodwaters transported everything from sewage to petroleum products to toxic chemicals. Even when the water receded, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds some of the toxins were left behind.
In Little Ferry, where the Passaic River - parts of which are classified as a Superfund site - surged into city streets, homeowner Regina Coyle worries what may be lurking just beneath the surface of her garden. “I’m afraid of the lead, I’m afraid of the possible arsenic, those kinds of things entering the food chain,” she says.
And some scientists say Coyle has valid reason to worry. “Fuel, industrial site material … all of these materials can be picked up by the floodwaters and transported,” says Joel Flagler, Rutgers University extension officer for Bergen County.
READ MORE: Environment Stories
A report by the nonprofit environmental group Climate Central finds 5 billion gallons of raw sewage were spread in New Jersey during Sandy, enough to fill 250,000 average-sized swimming pools.
Robert Weitz, of independent environmental testing company RTK Environmental Group, says his company has conducted soil tests and found Sandy caused levels of some hazardous materials to be “as high as triple what a regulatory level says would be acceptable.” Weitz declined to disclose any of his actual test results, citing client confidentiality, but he did collect soil from several properties, including Regina Coyle’s, at News 12 New Jersey’s request, and sent them to an independent lab for testing.
Health officials and experts offer sometimes contradictory advice as to what homeowners should do to protect themselves. Bergen County Health Officer Nancy Mangieri says, “There’s no specific data that specifically addresses the soil in these areas after the flooding.” She and Flagler recommend that gardeners who plant herbs or vegetables routinely use raised containers and store-bought soil to be safe. Weitz recommends home testing, but Flagler opposes that, saying contamination can be so widely scattered that homeowners can get “false negatives” and be lured into thinking their soil is clean when it is not.
The Environmental Protection Agency says there is no significant evidence that Sandy caused contamination to spread. The EPA conducted soil tests at a couple of its superfund sites in New Jersey, including one in Laurence Harbor, and found contamination remained in the “off-limits” area, without spreading to areas that are accessible to the public. But the agency admits that at most superfund sites, it performed only visual inspections and did no soil testing.
On Wednesday, Kane in Your Corner will reveal the results of our independent soil tests.
For an extended interview with Rutgers' Joel Flagler, watch the clip to the left or click News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612.