This article was partucularly interesting! After hurricane Sandy, much of the northeastern coast is flooded. Floodwater is known to contain harmful bacteria and disease. Because floodwater mixes with both sewage, river, and rain water it is reasonable to assume that it is full of harmful materials. Citizens of the area have been instructed to stay clear of the stagnant water; as well as, boil all tap water before consuming to rid it of harmful bacteria. If i was in their situation i would do as they say, and avoid standing water until it is all pumped out or evaporated.
Daniel Stone and Luna Shyr
Published October 30, 2012
As much of the U.S. Northeast grapples with the inundation of HurricaneSandy, the most dramatic photos show standing water filling busy U.S. streets in New York City, New Jersey, and along the coastline.
Public health officials caution that stagnant water from floods can pose significant health risks, many of which can worsen with time. (See “Hurricane Sandy: Why Full Moon Makes ‘Frankenstorm’ More Monstrous.”)
David Doyle, a spokesperson for New York’s Office of Emergency Management, cautioned that flood debris can hide broken bottles and even animals. He also urged people to avoid moving water, noting that just 6 inches (15 centimeters) of it can sweep someone off their feet.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that flooding would be addressed promptly, but urged residents to avoid contact with the water, portions of which may have been electrified by downed power lines.
Urban runoff in large cities is generally considered safer than rural runoff, which can include animal fecal bacteria produced from agriculture. Yet urban sewage treatment plants that are overwhelmed during major flood events can spill untreated sewage into waterways. It can then end up on streets and clog storm drains. Other urban contaminants include motor oil, gasoline, and trash.
Untreated Sewage a Danger
Joan Rose, the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at the University of Michigan, who specializes in microbial risks, noted that untreated sewage can introduce bacteria, viruses, and parasites capable of causing a variety of ailments. “With the cool temperatures [in New York City], these pathogens can survive for months,” she said.
Cases of vibrio bacteria infections, which enter the body through open cuts, were reported after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, Rose noted. Even boaters and kayakers can pick them up. (Watch hurricane videos.)
Potential infections were easily picked up from parasites in the water following Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast.
New York’s risk might be even greater in certain places, considering the thousands of tons of raw sewage that have flowed into the Hudson River.
To avoid risks of contacting harmful contaminants, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has advised those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to adhere to local warnings to boil tap water.
New York City officials have also asked that residents in the lower half of the island remain in their homes until street water can be adequately diverted into local waterways.
E. Coli the Bacteria to Watch
The most concerning urban bacteria is Escherichia coli—also known as E. coli—the organism that most mammals use for digestion. Found in the lower intestine, it can be toxic if ingested into the stomach. Floods that carry raw sewage into high density areas can spread the bacteria. (Explore an interactive of the human body.)
E. coli is consumed by either drinking contaminated water or eating food with the bacteria. The resulting condition is known as gastroenteritis, a common ailment among Western travelers in developing countries.
Earlier this year, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report outlining the risks of urban flooding, highlighting that the occurrence of floods may increase due to global warming. Driving on inundated streets was identified as the top safety risk, but sitting water produces significant health risks as well.
Flooding can overwhelm potable water infrastructure, preventing water purification. Overwhelmed infrastructure can also lead to sewage backups and mold growth, which can cost a city billions of dollars to fix. (See flood pictures.)
Health risks can be dramatically minimized with a timely cleanup. “Things definitely get worse with time,” said Liz Perera, a co-author on the report and an environmental scientist and policy analyst with the Sierra Club.
“As water stagnates, the E. coli bacteria can spread. Other types of bacteria and parasites can spread,” said Perera.
Floods Almost Always Spike Illnesses
Even without directly drinking the brackish water, contaminants can make their way into human bodies, through the air, or even through the faucet. Just walking through open water can infect people with open cuts. Rubbing eyes after touching water can increase one’s risk of infection as well.
“In almost every situation after each flood there is some evidence of increased illness, though it’s not always well documented,” said the University of Michigan’s Rose.
A 1993 study of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s public health system found that after the city had received heavy rainfall and floods in busy areas, the outbreak of gastrointestinal diseases treated in regional hospitals increased sharply. Children were much more affected than adults. In all, 400,000 people in Milwaukee’s metro area were infected. More than a hundred deaths were reported.
To limit risk, Rose suggests avoiding anything exposed to floodwater. She advises prudent hand washing and staying current on the tetanus vaccine. (Get our tips on hurricane preparedness.)
One helpful influence in combating flood toxins is often sunlight, which can help neutralize dirty water with ultraviolet light. “That can be nature’s way of cleansing water,” said Nancy Hall, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Iowa.
But with significant water in the streets, and especially in New York City, where direct sunlight is often blocked by large skyscrapers, the water’s conditions can deteriorate. Said Hall, “Some of the disease-producing organisms would probably survive for quite a while.”
Previously, scientists have thought that the eruption of the Toba supervolcano some 75,000 years ago sent the world into an ice age, killing off many of the organisms including humans. However, recent study of the ice in the North and South poles from the region shows not a decrease in temperature but an increase. This is a hopeful sign for people because if a supervolcano eruption were to happen, we would not have to worry about an ice-age killing us all. The amazing thing about this is how the scientists not only saw a temperature increase based on the layers of ice in the arctic and antarctic, but just how they were able to identify that ice as the ice from the time period. WOW!
Published November 7, 2012
Roughly 74,000 years ago, Indonesia’s Toba supervolcano pumped massive amounts of sun-shrouding ash and gases into the atmosphere, cooling the planet, possibly devastating early humanity, and—a new study reveals—raining sulfuric acid on both poles. (How Toba’s eruption changed Earth.)
Scientists have long debated just how extensive and enduring those effects were. One study, for example suggested the Toba blast spawned a thousand-year ice age that only some 10,000 individuals survived. Another has found evidence of humans thriving in relatively nearby India shortly after the eruption.
The new study—based on acid rain-tainted ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland—suggests Toba’s fallout wasn’t quite as catastrophic as might be expected.
The Antarctic ice core, for example, even bears traces of a warming event just after the Toba eruption—contrary to a strong cooling signal seen in the Greenland cores.
“That means there’s no long-term global cooling caused by the eruption,” study co-author Anders Svensson said. If there had been, you’d expect to see evidence of a chill at both Poles.
In fact, the post-Toba Antarctic cooling spike looks well, relatively ordinary. “There may have been shorter [global] cooling of a duration of maybe 10 or 20 years, like we see for more recent”—and much less powerful—”volcanoes,” said Svensson, of the Niels Bohr Institute’s Centre for Ice and Climate in Copenhagen.
Toba’s Human Toll
Toba was “certainly not causing long-term cooling of a thousand years, or even a hundred,” Svensson said. “It seems like humans lived on and everything is recovering.”
Of course that would have depended in part on location, location, location, as real estate agents say.
It’s speculated that prehistoric human populations—some perhaps relatively fresh out of Africa—were ravaged by the volcano’s environmental fallout as far away from Indonesia as modern-day India.
That ancient toll may come in to sharper focus as a result of the new ice core data, coupled with ash readings from closer to the long-gone volcano. By correlating the various dating findings, the team says, they’ll be able to better estimate when the eruption occurred, which should in turn allow archaeologists to better gauge whether artifacts date from pre- or post-Toba times.
Whenever Toba exploded, it’s unlikely we’ll see such a mega-eruption any time soon. “It’s a very low risk,” Svensson reassured.
In Ecuador the volcano Tungurahua has began erupting more violently than it has been for the past 13 years. 84 miles southeast of the Ecuador capital of Quito has forced hundreds of families to evacuate the area in case of possible eruption. The volcano’s rating has been changed from “moderate” to “high” risk. I hope that it remains to erupt at a consistent pace and just fizzle itself out. As well, people should listen to authorities and evacuate when told to.
Throat of Fire
Photograph by Carlos Campana, Reuters
Fire and large clouds of gas and ash spew from the mouth of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano, 84 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of the capital city of Quito.
The 16,475-foot (5,023-meter) volcano has been erupting intermittently since October 1999, but more aggressive activity prompted the authorities to raise the security alert from “moderate” to “high” this week.
Ecuadorean authorities told the Associated Press that more than a hundred families have been evacuated from the vicinity of Tungurahua—which means “throat of fire” in the region’s indigenous Quechua language.
(Related volcano pictures: “‘Throat of Fire’ Erupts.”)
Published August 23, 2012
In previous years corn production in the United States has been at an all time high. People began to agree to terms for using parts of their produce for the production of ethanol fuels. This year drought has withered the crops of the Midwest driving corn prices to an all time high. Still, farmers must use that certain amount (corresponding with their contract) for the production of ethanol. With so little to begin with, corn has become even more expensive. Being the biggest exporter of corn in the world this hurts the world’s economy as well. I think that the ethanol companies should have taken corn, but less than the contract had assigned for this year only. I feel bad for all the farmers struggling to get by or that have lost their crop in the terrible drought.