If Superstorm Sandy did one thing (other than wreck thousands of people’s homes and businesses), it showed us that climate change is a seriously scary thing. One of the biggest consequences of the storm surges was one that we weren’t prepared for: the failure of the sewage system in NYC.
And it’s one of the outcomes that will take the longest to fix. When the floodwaters came rushing in, they destroyed or badly damaged several sewage and water treatment plants, causing them to shut down. Without the plants operating, raw and partially treated sewage began to flow out into New York and New Jersey waterways, where it has contaminated water and become a health risk.
There’s no question the next big storm will do the same. Raw sewage in public waters means that disease will spread and millions will be exposed. The damage wrought by Sandy on NYC’s sewage system amounts to billions of dollars in damages and could take years to fix.
Other vital infrastructures and systems like transportation, power, water, gas, and communications are also at risk, as Sandy also made clear. In more rural areas, rising seawater are also a threat to agriculture, capable of wiping out entire crops, destroying farms, and flooding areas with salt water.
In Joplin, Mo., a recent tornado exposed several people to the fungi Apophysomyces, a common fungus in soil, wood, and water. It doesn’t normally bother humans unless it has a way of getting into their bodies—at which point it begins ravaging their bodies, eating flesh, and shutting off blood supply. With climate change on the rise, the natural balance of things will continue to be upset and we will soon be reaping the consequences.
Climate change is much bigger than just having to rebuild houses and land and dealing with more extreme temperatures. It’s a serious threat to many of the infrastructures on which our modern world relies and it will bring us face to face with some deadly medical hazards we’ve never faced before.
“These disasters put us at risk for exposure to organisms that are around us, but don’t normally cause disease,” said David Engelthaler, Director of Programs and Operations for TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division, following the Joplin tornado. “There’s clearly an entire world out there that we’re not seeing on a regular basis. It takes a severe event like this tornado for us to come face-to-face with some of the more dangerous pathogens out there.”