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article imageHouston folks at risk from toxic chemicals and bacteria

By Karen Graham     Sep 3, 2017 in Health
Houston - At least 13 of the 41 Superfund toxic waste sites in the Houston area have been flooded or damaged by Hurricane Harvey, according to the EPA, adding to the worries of health officials already concerned over bacterial contamination in the flood waters.
When Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Southeastern Texas, petroleum refineries shut down, releasing literally tons of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and soil. Now, the flooding of known toxic waste sites has finally been confirmed by aerial observation by the EPA, adding insult to injury for the flooded region.
The EPA says it cannot do an onsite assessment of the sites because its workers have not been able to "safely access the sites" but are ready to do so as soon as the flood waters recede. So that means the sites will continue to leech whatever toxins are present for another 10 to 15 days, according to the last estimate for when the water will recede.
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It seems rather strange that the EPA is saying they can't get to the sites in the Houston area because they are inaccessible when the Associated Press is reporting on Sunday their " journalists used a boat to document the condition of one flooded Houston-area Superfund site but accessed others with a vehicle or on foot."
The EPA would not respond to the AP's questions about why there were no agents at the sites, instead, releasing a statement that read: "Teams are in place to investigate possible damage to these sites as soon flood waters recede, and personnel are able to safely access the sites."
On Saturday, after reading the AP report, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he wants the EPA "in town to address the situation." The mayor says he didn't realize the potential impact of the flooded Superfund sites on the public when Trump was in town Saturday or he would have said something.
"Now we're turning our attention to that," he said. "It is always a concern. The environment is very concerning, and we'll get right on top of it." People should be glad the mayor is showing concern for the environment.
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Actually, in the past week since the storm hit, a lot more of the discussion has been turning to the environment and climate change, with many people now asking if what we have just experienced will be the new norm.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt has said that cleaning up Superfund sites is a top priority, even as he has rolled back or delayed rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. So it is easy to see why he has not shown any real concern for what is happening in Texas.
Pruitt showed his blase attitude after the initial two explosions at the Arkema chemical plant on Thursday last week. The EPA issued a statement saying: the "concentrations of any toxic materials released in a chemical fire at Arkema SA's flooded plant 25 miles northeast of Houston appear too small for concern for now."
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If Houston intends to regain its stability and economic growth, it will have to pay attention to the mistakes in city planning so vividly revealed with the storm. And in the meantime, it is hoped that health officials at the federal level will be taking the chemical toxicity of the area seriously, especially the possible long-term effects on people's health.
As for the bacterial contamination from sewage in the flood waters, testing has shown excessive amounts of coliform bacteria in samples taken from numerous areas, raising the risk to people's health from intestinal illnesses and wound infections. There is also the risk of mosquito-borne disease because of the standing water in so many places.
More about Houston, Toxic chemicals, bacterial contamination, superfund sites, Epa
 
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