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Chemical contamination of soils in the New York City area following Hurricane Sandy


This paper presents a unique data set of lead, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations in soil samples collected from the metropolitan New York City area in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Initial samples were collected by citizen scientists recruited via social media, a relatively unusual approach for a sample collection project. Participants in the affected areas collected 63 usable samples from basements, gardens, roads, and beaches. Results indicate high levels of arsenic, lead, PCBs, and PAHs in an area approximately 800 feet south of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Superfund site at Newtown Creek. A location adjacent to the Gowanus Canal, another Superfund site, was found to have high PCB concentrations. Areas of high PAH contamination tended to be near high traffic areas or next to sites of known contamination. While contamination as a direct result of Hurricane Sandy cannot be demonstrated conclusively, the presence of high levels of contamination close to known contamination sites, evidence for co-contamination, and decrease in number of samples containing measureable amounts of semi-volatile compounds from samples collected at similar locations 9 months after the storm suggest that contaminated particles may have migrated to residential areas as a result of flooding.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the citizen scientists who responded to our call to provide soil samples for the study. Particular gratitude is due to Fred Wolf, of the Pratt Institute, for his tireless sampling work. We also wish to acknowledge Hailey Steichen and Natasha Vargo (Vassar College) for their supporting work. Funding for this project was provided by internal funds from Vassar College and Marist College in addition to contributions to a crowdfunding project on Rockethub.

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Correspondence to Neil Fitzgerald.

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Mandigo, A.C., DiScenza, D.J., Keimowitz, A.R. et al. Chemical contamination of soils in the New York City area following Hurricane Sandy. Environ Geochem Health 38, 1115–1124 (2016).

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  • Citizen science
  • Hurricane Sandy
  • Soil
  • Contamination