Harvey's Environmental Effects Are 'Terrifying'

Toxins are leaching into floodwaters and spewing into the air
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2017 5:17 PM CDT
Harvey's Floodwaters Are Likely Toxic Catastrophe
The Arkema chemical plant is flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday in Crosby, Texas. The plant, about 25 miles outside of Houston, lost power and its backup generators amid Harvey’s deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.   (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

"This is going to be a travesty. The contamination could be going anywhere," says a Houston-area resident who lives a block away from an old wood-treating facility flooded by Hurricane Harvey. The New York Times reports the facility is one of two dozen Superfund sites potentially leaking lead, arsenic, and other carcinogens in the wake of the storm. Those toxins would join runoff from potentially hundreds of petroleum and chemical facilities, as well as raw sewage from an over-taxed waste system. "It's contaminated. There's millions of contaminants," a spokesperson for the Houston Health Department says of the water that's flooding nearly 30% of the city. Officials are urging residents to stay out of the water, but that's much easier said than done.

And it's not just the flood water that's posing a danger to long-term health. A flooded chemical plant spewing toxic smoke has sent 15 people to the hospital, New Republic reports. And more than 2 million pounds of hazardous substances have been put into the air by oil facilities shutting down in the wake of Harvey. Their effect on air quality will likely be even worse when they start back up—without the storm's wind and rain to disperse the pollutants. A local environmental justice organizer calls the situation "terrifying." Meanwhile, feces may have gotten into wells used by residents in dozens of counties and could "cause massive epidemics in a matter of days," says an expert on contaminated water. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says it could end up costing more than $125 billion in aid to clean up the whole mess, Reuters reports. (More Hurricane Harvey stories.)

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