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Sandy’s Devastating Impact to Hudson River Includes Widespread Toxic Spills

Riverkeeper urges citizens to avoid flooded areas, document and report pollution related to storm surge

Ossining, NY — October 30, 2012 – Riverkeeper mourns the loss of life from Superstorm Sandy, and we will assist as we can by land and water with cleanup efforts. Riverkeeper also wants to alert the public to the presence of unprecedented storm-related pollution of the Hudson River.

The flood levels in New York City and parts of the Hudson Valley from Sandy’s storm surge had not been seen in generations, and may be historic. The Hudson River as far north as Poughkeepsie was classified as a major flood.

The impact of Sandy’s storm surge is enormous, causing widespread pollution of the Hudson River and New York Harbor by a variety of toxic chemicals, including petroleum and fluids from cars and boats; contaminants from flooded subways, roads, parking lots and tunnels; and contaminants washed from shoreline industrial sites, as well as commercial and residential buildings.

Oil sheens and debris have been observed—everything from 55-gallon drums and quart-sized containers of transmission fluid, to wrecked boats and swamped vehicles with leaking fuel tanks. Just about anything that can float is being observed.

“The toxic legacy from this storm will continue. This is like an Exxon Valdez spill from nonpoint sources,” said Capt. John Lipscomb, who weathered the storm aboard Riverkeeper’s patrol boat, the R. Ian Fletcher. “The amount of pollution released by this storm is staggering. Instead of it being one product like crude oil, it’s a thousand different products and floatables, and instead of being from one source like a tanker, it’s from a thousand different locations.”

Sewage overflows are a chronic problem in the Hudson River watershed, and Sandy also triggered sewage overflows typical of what happens with every moderate or heavy storm. What’s different about the sewage contamination from Sandy is that, due to the storm surge, sewage spilled back into roads and homes in many communities, rather than being discharged into the river or harbor. Sewage contamination levels in the Hudson River Estuary were likely lower due to Sandy than typical storms because such a high volume of water washed into the estuary from the Atlantic.

Riverkeeper urges people to keep safe and avoid flooded areas. Citizens who observe pollution are encouraged to document it, if they can do so safely, by taking photos and noting the location, time and conditions. Reports can be submitted online at or emailed to watchdog@riverkeeper.org. Due to communications problems caused by the storm, citizens should not expect immediate responses. Active oil or chemical spills or emergency situations should be reported first directly to the Department of Environmental Conservation Spills hotline at 1-800-457-7362. More information about reporting pollution can be found at riverkeeper.org/get-involved/violations/