Human- and Ecological-Health Concerns Related to Transport and Persistence of Contaminants on Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands

Science Center Objects

Problem Tribal Lands of the Shinnecock Nation Tribal community were inundated during Hurricane Sandy’s storm tide, resulting in detrimental effects on the Tribal Land’s natural resources. The existing science being used to inform decisions on remediation is biased toward activities are necessarily focused on the immediate aftermath of storms An assessment of the sources of contaminants...

Tribal Lands of the Shinnecock Nation Tribal community were inundated during Hurricane Sandy’s storm tide, resulting in  detrimental effects on the Tribal Land’s natural resources.  The existing science being used to inform decisions on remediation is biased toward activities are necessarily focused on the immediate aftermath of storms  An assessment of the sources of contaminants that may have been introduced from inundation is needed to provide a context with which the Tribal community can better understand how to prioritize and manage the sources and minimize risk.
This project will evaluate key human- and ecological-health concerns related to transport and persistence of contaminants on Shinnecock Tribal Lands resulting from tidal inundation caused by Hurricane Sandy, as well as establish a benchmark ahead of future storms and the accelerating rise in sea level. This study will provide data to support decision making by increasing an understanding of longer-term storm-related impacts and associated contaminant threats to humans and ecosystems. 
 Shallow groundwater (less than 40 feet below land surface) was sampled during the summer of 2014 from observation wells and temporary hand-driven piezometers. Each sample was analyzed for nutrients (inorganic forms of nitrogen and phosphorus) and contaminants associated with septic systems. Septic systems are known sources of nutrients, bacteria, and wastewater-derived compounds to the shallow groundwater system (Schubert, 2010). Septic discharges are also likely sources of emerging contaminants (ECs), including pharmaceuticals, personal-care products, and endocrine disrupting compounds. Septic influenced shallow groundwater ultimately discharges to adjacent surface waters (Cross and others, 2013) and may affect coastal aquatic resources. Recent studies attribute nutrient loading in bays to seepage of septic contaminated groundwater.  The contaminated groundwater may also indirectly affect ecosystem health by reducing that natural attenuation (for example, denitrification) of nutrients prior to seepage in adjacent coastal waters (Underwood and others, 2011).   An overall assessment of the shallow groundwater-quality on Tribal Lands will be performed, with special attention to the transport of nutrients, potentially pathogenic bacteria, and contaminants from the surficial aquifer to adjacent sensitive coastal habitats, including shellfish beds.
Contaminants released and or mobilized as a result of Hurricane Sandy may be retained in bed sediments in aquatic environments and may be accumulating in exposed organisms, especially at low trophic levels (for example, oysters). Natural resources such as the oyster farms present within the Shinnecock Tribal Land boundaries may be vulnerable to exposure of contaminants that persist in the Hurricane Sandy impacted areas. Tissue analysis of the farmed oysters will be conducted to assess exposures and impacts within the food web.  Results from these analyses will be evaluated on a regional scale when related to mussel tissue data from the larger U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Hurricane Sandy Theme 4 reconnaissance.
( ) Knowledge of the contaminants present will give a better understanding of the long-term fate and health implications of Hurricane Sandy-related environmental contamination.  These data will inform decisions and aid development of appropriate strategies to anticipate, remediate, or otherwise respond to the contamination. 
Additionally, bed sediment samples collected from oyster farms and a marsh that was inundated during Hurricane Sandy will be submitted for analysis. The sediment sample analysis will characterize the environmental chemistry and will set a baseline that can be used for future studies surrounding the Shinnecock Tribal Land.  Results will be directly correlated to results from the larger USGS Hurricane Sandy Theme 4 regional reconnaissance sampling of bed sediment and a separate, ongoing USGS mosquito insecticide monitoring study occurring at select wetlands along the south shore of Suffolk County, N.Y. The USGS has collected bed sediment samples in surrounding embayments within New York and New Jersey to be analyzed for contaminants introduced by the inundation of the urban environment during Hurricane Sandy.  Sample locations were selected to be representative of storm impacted areas and will enable an assessment of the overall ecosystem impacts.  Estuarine marshes located along the low-lying coasts of New York and New Jersey are important coastal ecosystems that were inundated by the storm tide of Hurricane Sandy.  As a result, these transitional zones between aquatic and terrestrial biomes were affected by a variety of contaminants from the urban environment, though they are less likely to be the focus of restoration efforts following such a damaging storm as Hurricane Sandy.  Therefore, chemical data from marshes can be used to indicate particular sources of contaminants based on proximity to local sources, as can bed sediment sample data collected from embayments within the New York-New Jersey study area. 
This project was funded by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (PL113-2).

Location by County

Suffolk County, NY