Report: Hurricane Harvey Has Flooded at Least Five Toxic Superfund Sites

62-year-old Highlands resident Dwight Chandler, who lives
near the flooded Highlands Acid Pit, examines his flood-damaged
home. Photo: AP

After a week of storms and high water, Hurricane Harvey has now
left at least 43 people in southeast
Texas dead
. In addition to the damage to infrastructure,
property and residents’ lives, the possible environmental
consequences of the massive flooding in the nation’s largest petrochemical complex are just now
becoming apparent.

At least five highly contaminated Superfund sites in the
Houston area were deluged by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey,
the AP reported on Saturday, and
Environmental Protection Agency officials contacted by the AP
could not immediately provide details on when staff would be
able to inspect the sites.

One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, had 22,000 cubic yards of
hazardous waste and soil removed in the 1980s, but the EPA
considers it a continuing threat to local groundwater, the AP

“My daddy talks about having bird dogs down there and to run
and the acid would eat the pads off their feet,” 62-year-old
Dwight Chandler, who lives just a few blocks away, said. “We
didn’t know any better.”

A working-class neighborhood in Crosby, which is less than 30
miles from downtown Houston, saw flooding in both the French
LTD and the Sikes Disposal Pits sites which are located to
either side. A sinkhole opened up there on Friday, taking down
two cars and filling the air with the scent of creosote, a
carbonaceous chemical formed by burning wood, fossil fuels, or
tar, the AP reported.

Polluted soil at the Brio Refining Inc. and San Jacinto River
Waste Pits appeared to have washed away amid heavy flooding;
the latter site was being considered for an $97 million EPA
cleanup effort.

“If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits,
then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the
wider Houston area,” TexPIRG researcher Kara Cook-Schultz told
the AP. “Superfund sites are known to be the most dangerous
places in the country, and they should have been properly
protected against flooding.”

In addition to the Superfund sites, concern has been raised
about numerous active industrial sites in the area which
suffered extensive flood damage. That included an Arkema SA
petrochemical plant which exploded after company officials said
they lost emergency power to cooling systems, making a detonation inevitable. At least two
containers containing organic peroxides burned down, with
another six likely to follow in the coming days, Click2Houston reported.

Several oil spills have occurred; Denbury Onshore LLC reported
losing between 200 to 1,500 barrels of oil in Brazoria County
after a storage tank overflowed.

According to the Washington Post,
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services treated some
420 out of 7,500 refugees at Houston’s George R. Brown
Convention Center, some for “diarrhea or vomiting that could be
associated with a virus or contaminated floodwater.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned the reconstruction effort after
the storm could be even more lengthy and arduous than cleanup
and recovery after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf
Coast and particularly the city of New Orleans.

“This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” Abbot
told ABC’s Good Morning
. “People need to understand this is not going
to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multiyear
project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.”

As the AP noted, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has publicly
called cleaning up Superfund sites a priority even as he has
worked to undermine some of the agency’s core functions, such
as the EPA’s role in regulating water and air pollution. The
White House’s fiscal year 2018 budget request proposed slashing
30 percent of the Superfund program’s funding, while as
Gizmodo previously reported, also asking for
the elimination of the US Chemical Safety & Hazard
Investigation Board.


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