Before us humans drained it, South Florida was first and foremost a swamp. Infrastructure improvements went in to make it look the way it is today, with its sewers and drainage systems built to take water back to the ocean. But when Hurricane Irma made itself known last week, it brought back old memories of the aged infrastructure, confirming a prediction made by Quartz.
In the wake of the storm, New Republic's Emily Atkin reports that Irma has brought, on top of billions of dollars in damage and at least 82 deaths, literal crap — at least 34 billion litres of it, according to some reports. And raw sewage has the potential to damage both human health and the environment. Atkin reports:
At the time of this article's publication, at least 113 "Public Notices of Pollution" had been submitted to the DEP. Combined, those discharge reports showed more than 28 million gallons of treated and untreated sewage released in 22 counties. The total amount is surely much more; at least 43 of those reports listed either an "unknown" or "ongoing" amount of waste released, and new reports continue to roll in — sometimes as many as a dozen per hour.
The source of the sewage comes from a combination of Florida's unique history of drained swamps, its aged infrastructure, and Irma knocking out the electricity that powered the sewage-draining pumps, reports The Washington Post. Many residents have septic tanks as well that can overflow in floods. Other chemicals have also added into the mix, such as fuel from a ruptured tank.
It's still unclear exactly what's going to happen, but it will certainly not be good for human health in the short-term. There are potentials for gastrointestinal problems from E. coli, norovirus, salmonella and giardia, Atkin reports. Or maybe there will be reports of staph infections. Once the water is drained into the Biscane Bay, the risk is reduced, but the concern remains for any leftover puddles or slow-moving bodies of water.
Infrastructure aside, the problem could be something Florida needs to deal with for a few weeks. After that, it will require infrastructure upgrades to prevent something like this from happening again.