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article imageAs Texas flood waters recede, new health hazards emerge

By Karen Graham     Sep 9, 2017 in Health
Houston - Houston residents trying to return to flooded homes after Hurricane Harvey should wear breathing masks against molds and bacteria from the city’s sewers and watch for alligators and snakes, the city fire chief said on Saturday.
After surviving Hurricane Harvey's onslaught and the heavy flooding that left thousands of homes inundated with floodwaters, families attempting to get back into their homes are facing a new series of threats.
Over 450,000 residents along the gulf coast of Texas are either without water or still need to boil their water, according to Texas’ environmental regulator. This includes parts of Houston, where flood waters had not entirely receded two weeks after the storm hit the city, reports Reuters.
City fire chief Samuel Pena, speaking at a town hall at the Westin Houston hotel on Saturday, said residents should wear breathing masks and even consider getting their Tetanus shots updated because Houston's sewage system flooded and leaked. He explained that when the streets finally dry out, the bacteria from the sewage will become airborne, creating a breathing hazard. Chief Pena also said residents will need to be aware that snakes, alligators, rodents, and arachnids could be inside their homes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said on Saturday that 40 of 1,219 wastewater treatment plants were inoperable and 52 drinking water systems were not working. A TCEQ spokeswoman said about 70,000 people were without water because their drinking water systems were inoperable.
And, according to the TCEQ, around 380,000 people were under a boil water notice because an additional 161 drinking water systems were contaminated. A total of 2,238 drinking water systems, were affected by Hurricane Harvey, TCEQ and EPA said. Plus, there are 101 systems still being assessed, or their condition is just not known.
Health hazards in South Bend County
The sheriff's office in Fort Bend County, located in the Houston metropolitan area, has told residents to leave any alligators on their properties or inside their homes alone until the water recedes, saying they are simply looking for higher ground, reports the Morning Star.
Leah Elyse Durain
"We have everything from snakes to alligators to fire ants," said Lach Mullen, spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management in Fort Bend County. "Even though evacuation orders have been lifted, people have to be wary of new occupants in their homes. They don't want to occupy the same space as you; they will leave on their own when they can."
During a morning news conference on Saturday, Brazoria County Judge L.M. "Matt" Sebesta Jr.warned residents about the dangers damaged septic systems posed - "We all know what is in septic systems--that is now what is in all those waters. So please, if you can stay out of the water, it is not healthy to be in that water."
Houston's benzene plume
Benzene. a clear sweet-smelling chemical is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels. Benzene is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals.
Caramel & Parsley‏
Air monitoring reveals a benzene plume near one Houston refinery reached a concentration as high as 324 parts per billion, according to the Houston Health Department -- well above the level of which federal officials recommend workers wear respiratory masks and protective gear.
Benzene is a serious health hazard. The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says: With exposures from less than five years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death.
"This is going to be an ongoing concern, because some chemicals, when they get in the water, become active and volatile," said Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who led the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. "There are some major areas of problem."
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