By Amanda Cuda
“I know from working in construction that people can get sick from that stuff,” said Williams, 45, pointing to the mud-like substance covering his cellar floor. “It might not be today, but it could be two years from now.”
A number of communities said Wednesday that thousands of gallons of raw sewage poured from overwhelmed treatment plants into Long Island Sound as Hurricane Sandy hit — including Bridgeport, Fairfield, Greenwich and New Haven — and that means it was more than just seawater that flooded hundreds of homes along the coast.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain said floodwater can also pick up other contaminants it comes into contact with, creating a toxic witches brew that could include pesticides, spilled oil and other chemicals.
And the contaminated floodwater was just one many of potential health hazards facing state residents in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, slips and falls incurred during clean-up and other issues continued to send people to hospitals throughout the region on Wednesday.
Though most hospitals said they hadn’t seen anyone dealing with problems related to floodwater, Department of Public Health spokesman William Gerrish said waters contaminated with sewage “can pose risks to your health, especially gastrointestinal illnesses, such as vomiting and diarrhea if ingested, skin rashes from direct contact and respiratory illness if sewage is allowed to dry and becomes airborne.”
He advised people to take precautions, such as wearing protective eye wear, gloves and boots when cleaning up contaminated flood water, washing hands after cleaning and protecting all cuts and scrapes from contaminated water.
Another major concern is carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators during power outages.
Amy Hanoian-Fontana, spokeswoman for the poison control center, said there had been 36 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the state since Tuesday, most of them in Fairfield County. Though that doesn’t sound like much, the average during this time of year — when there isn’t a power outage — is at most one case a day, she said.
Hanoian-Fontana said those who had been sickened included people who had placed generators in their basements or garages with the door closed or other places that let the fumes get into their homes.
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are like the flu and include headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or loss of consciousness.
In addition to the trip and fall cases, several hospitals also reported an influx of patients dependent on electrical devices such as home ventilators. Others turned to their local emergency rooms for minor problems because their primary care physician wasn’t open for business. Still others are staying at hospitals because they have nowhere else to go.
“We’ve seen a huge surge” in the emergency department, said Bridgeport Hospital spokeswoman Audrey Wise. On a typical day, she said, between 215 and 260 people visit the hospital’s emergency department. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, the department had already seen 208 visitors. Though Wise didn’t anticipate having to divert traffic to another facility, “we’re all hands on deck.”
At St. Vincent’s, spokeswoman Lucinda Ames said there had been a 20 to 30 percent spike in volume due to the storm over the past few days, though she added that the hospital isn’t nearing capacity.
Danbury Hospital spokeswoman Andrea Rynn said the facility had a “high census” (close to 300 people) prior to the storm, and opened a special needs shelter to ensure that it was able to accommodate patients during and after Sandy.
Greenwich Hospital, meanwhile, served about 150 people on Tuesday and was serving 190 people as of late Wednesday afternoon. The hospital typically serves 115 to 120 people a day, according to spokesman George Pawlush. The hospital is licensed for 206 beds, meaning it’s nearing capacity. Pawlush said if the volume continues to rise, staff will accommodate patients by using alternative space. “Every hospital has contingency plans,” he said.
Staff writer Keila Torres contributed to this report.
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