Hurricane Harvey's Toxic Impact Wasn't Fully Disclosed

6 months later, only a few spills have been investigated by the feds: AP
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 23, 2018 11:00 AM CDT
Toxic Leaks Kept Quiet After Hurricane Harvey
This March 20, 2018 photo shows Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Olefins Plant in Baytown, Texas. Two days after Harvey hit, some 457 million gallons of stormwater mixed with untreated wastewater, including oil and grease, surged into an adjacent creek from the Exxon plant.   (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

More than a half-year after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast, the extent of the resulting environmental assault is beginning to surface, while questions about the long-term consequences for human health remain unanswered. County, state, and federal records pieced together by the AP and Houston Chronicle reveal more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases, most never publicized. Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston. Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene, and other human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxins released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey's torrential rains.

Only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators, reporters found. Texas regulators say they've investigated 89 incidents, but have yet to announce any enforcement actions. In comparison, more than a dozen violations were identified and cleanups carried out following 2008's Hurricane Ike in the state. Based on widespread air monitoring, officials repeatedly assured the public that post-Harvey air pollution posed no health threat. But the EPA official in charge now says these general assessments didn't necessarily reflect "hotspots" with potential risk to people. The EPA's acting regional administrator during Harvey said the priority was addressing harms "as quickly as possible as opposed to making announcements." In hindsight, he said, it might not have been a bad idea to inform the public about the worst of "dozens of spills." The AP has much more here. (More Hurricane Harvey stories.)

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