Increases in industrial pollution cause health concerns in wake of Hurricane Harvey

The closing of numerous chemical plants and refineries in Houston due to severe weather, heavy rain and flooding from Hurricane Harvey resulted in very high releases of toxic pollutants into the air. Public health experts have expressed concerns about the health implications for people of this increased industrial pollution and say the affects are already being noticed. Some experts have also expressed concern about the risk of water contamination from floodwaters and potential health impacts. [refers to Chevron Phillips, Equistar, ExxonMobil Shell, Valero Energy] 

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5 September 2017

Industrial pollution spikes in Harvey's wake

Author: Gregory Wallace, CNN

Texas' dominant energy industry has spewed millions of pounds of pollution into the air in the wake of Hurricane Harvey... Experts say the quantities of pollution are massive and are steadily rising as the oil and gas industries perform the pollution-intensive process of restarting operations that were halted by the storm. That process requires a greater than normal amount of "flaring" -- the burning off of gas byproducts... "We're concerned about these (emissions), but also about what's not reported," said Cyrus Reed, the conservation director at the Sierra Club in Texas... Public health experts expressed concerns about the health implications for people in the region and say the affects are already being noticed... [We're] seeing concentrations higher than anything recorded "in over a decade... the Houston area has seen six months' worth of pollution in a few days," said Elena Craft, a senior toxicologist at the Environmental Defense Fund... Authorities said they are monitoring an additional toxic concern in the region hit by Harvey: superfund sites... "These waters are filled both with chemicals, with waste and things like that, that can pose real health hazards," [according to Governor Abbott].

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2 September 2017

Commentary: Flooding from Hurricane Harvey Causes a Host of Public Health Concerns

Author: Neil S. Grigg, Scientific American

The historic rainfall dumped by Hurricane Harvey has already led to deaths by drownings and the destruction of many homes. Houston’s drinking water system is being stressed by overflowing water reservoirs and dams, breached levees and possible problems at treatment plants and in the water distribution system. Failure of drinking water systems could lead to water shortages...  I also see a number of public health concerns. Raw sewage, dead bodies in the water and release of dangerous chemicals into the floodwaters could lead to the spread of disease through contact with contaminated water and to infection through open wounds... Because Houston has at least a dozen sites that have been designated environmentally hazardous, there is a risk of petrochemical contamination. Indeed, companies have reported that pollutants from refineries have already been released... [Also] the “unprecedented” amount of water leads to the perfect breeding opportunities for mosquitoes, which are vectors of Zika and many other infectious diseases... Flood impacts hit hardest on the most vulnerable and exposed people, especially children, the elderly and disabled, and the poor...

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1 September 2017

Harvey shines a spotlight on a high-risk area of chemical plants in Texas

Author: Tom Dart & Jessica Glenza, The Guardian

The Texas-Louisiana border is home to a melange of 840 petrochemical, refining and power plants operated by some of the world’s largest companies... Most shut down safely before and during the storm, but the contamination they cast over the area existed long before Harvey dropped barrels of rain... [Due to Hurricane Harvey] the second largest oil refinery in the country... had a roof collapse and released pollutants into the air. Shell reported similar incidents due to heavy rains... [According to a local resident]... for the first time, some members of his family “were having trouble breathing and [getting] headaches” that lasted about two days at the height of the flooding... Environmental worries did not stop when Harvey’s record-breaking rains abated. “Our biggest concern is now that the flood water has receded is the flood water carried… a number of chemicals in the homes,” said Yvette Arellano, a researcher for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services... Where water might have carried chemicals and metals since the neighborhood was inundated is unclear... “It’s usually a pretty complex mixture of chemicals that were already present in the environment and sewage and wildlife, like snakes,” said [an environmental scientist] about flood waters... “Doing environmental work in a place like Texas – where officials deny climate change is even happening – is extremely difficult. It’s a tough road, and they’ve been fighting this fight for a long time,” [a researcher for the Union of Concerned Scientists] said. “All I hope now is after this tragedy maybe people will start to listen, maybe they’ll take action”.

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29 August 2017

Harvey triggers spike in hazardous chemical releases

Author: Ben Lefebvre, Politico

Hobbled oil refineries and damaged fuel facilities along the Gulf Coast of Texas from Tropical storm Harvey have released more than two million pounds of dangerous chemicals into the air this week, adding new health threats to Houston’s already considerable woes. The big spike in releases, which include carcinogenic benzene and nitrogen oxide, will add an environmental and long-term health risk to the region that's struggling with the massive flooding that Harvey has brought to the country’s energy capital, according to environmental watchdogs... “It’s adding to the cancer risk to the community and well as respiratory problems,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas... The storm has cut power to nearly 300,000 people in Texas, forced 13 refineries to shut down and caused another five to ramp down operations... Chemical maker Chevron Phillips reported the largest pollutant release. The company estimated it had sent more than 766,000 pounds of chemicals to its flare for burning as it shut its Baytown plant down because of the storm, it said in a TCEQ filing... The American Petroleum Institute noted that preparing refineries for such an unprecedented storm was a complex process, and it said the industry was “committed to the safety of our workers and the community and the protection of human health and the environment.”

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