Post-Sandy sewage raises water safety fears

(CBS News) Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed sewer systems, pouring tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage into waterways along the East Coast. Health departments in several states are now warning residents about tap water.

The waste water that makes it to treatment facilities is treated and considered safe. The concern now is the waste water that doesn't make to it facilities.

In Branford, Conn., there are 55 smaller pumping stations that fuel the larger treatment facility. During Sandy, three of those were temporarily knocked offline. That sent 55,000 gallons of raw, untreated sewage into the ocean.

From Maryland, with its reports of millions of gallons of overflowing sewage, to Connecticut - where sewer plants were knocked offline, headlines following superstorm Sandy have raised questions about water safety.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, said, "In a disaster like Sandy, it is not uncommon to for us to have real problems with the quality of the drinking water. The water can get contaminated through breakdowns in the sewage treatment plants, through overflow of sewers and by all sorts of things that can make the drinking water unsafe."

Residents of hard-hit Atlantic City, N.J. are being urged to boil water. In New York, untreated sewage is flowing into waterways.

In Brooklyn, floodwater topped the sides of the Gowanus Canal, a designated toxic Superfund site.

But, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg maintains the drinking water is safe. He said, "If it tastes a like it has little more chlorine in it, it is because we want to take some extra precaution but the water supply is fine."

Redlener said that following a storm, drinking bottled water is safest and you should use common sense. He said, "It is highly advisable to stay away from those potentially contaminated bodies of water."

In Connecticut, 15 to 20 million gallons of partially treated sewage is believed to have flowed into Long Island Sound when pumping stations were overwhelmed by the storm surge.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said, "Suffice to say, in the immediate time being, no one should eat the clams or oysters."

A third of water treatment facilities in Connecticut are operating on back-up generator power.

For Seth Doane's full report, watch the video in the player above.