More than six months since Hurricane Harvey decimated much of Central America and the American Gulf Coast, the public still doesn’t have the answers it needs regarding the full public health impact of the powerful storm. This is of particular concern for Texas, in which the nation’s most substantial energy corridor is based. 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of oil, gas and chemical pipelines are located in the impact area of Hurricane Harvey. And investigations by the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle have found that the toxic impact of the storm is far worse than authorities reported.
The investigators documented more than 100 specific instances of toxic chemical release into the water, the air, or land as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater flooded out of one chemical plant outside of Houston alone, mixing with storm water and surging across the sprawling urban environment. Hazardous chemicals such as benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other carcinogens were released into the flood waters during the storm. In the case of two major contamination events, officials publicized the potential toxic impact as less extensive than it actually was.
While Texas regulators claim to have investigated at least 89 instances, they have not said whether they will take any enforcement action. Alarmingly, state and federal regulators only tested water and soil for contaminants in areas near Superfund toxic waste sites, ignoring the potential runoff of toxic chemicals during the unprecedented flooding of Houston and surrounding areas. During and after the storm, authorities only notified the public of dangers posed by two events: the explosions and burning at the Arkema chemical plant and an uncapped Superfund site by the San Jacinto River. “The public will probably never know the extent of what happened to the environment after Harvey,” Harris County supervising attorney Rock Owens told the Associated Press, “but the individual companies of course know.”
Via NBC San Diego