In the months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, a lot of progress has been made in terms of clean up. But there are also a lot of questions that still need to be answered, and one of most important is whether the flooding that followed the storm caused toxic waste to impact the area’s waterways and soil. There were 34 federal Superfund sites that were directly in the storm’s path, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at least 13 of them were directly impacted by the heavy floods, with at least two known to have been damaged. What is unknown is how much contamination resulted from this damage.
After their initial assessments of the situation immediately after Hurricane Harvey struck, the EPA ordered the responsible parties spend a minimum of $115 million to clean up a site 20 miles east of Houston called the San Jacinto River Waste Pits. That area had been known to be a site of “highly toxic dioxin contamination,” and the agency indicated that some had gotten into the flood waters. Now residents are expressing concern as to how much, as well as how effective the agency’s testing methodologies are.
Hurricane Harvey Flooding Caused Dioxin Leak into San Jacinto River
The San Jacinto River Waste Pits were a problem long before Hurricane Harvey struck. The area was originally contaminated by paper mills that dumped toxic waste into the river, and in 2008 the area was named a Superfund site and the waste was held in what is known as an “armored cap” that is close to the city of Houston and its outlying areas. Reports immediately after the storm showed that levels of toxins in the soil had risen to 2,300 times more than the amount that is allowed. Though there is no way of knowing how much got into the river and bayou, there is no doubt that it did.
Local health and environmental advocates have expressed concern about the long-term health impact, especially as the areas that are downstream are popular for both recreational use and for commercial fishermen.