Hurricane Harvey Floods Toxic Superfund Sites in Texas

You’ve seen the photos of an inundated Texas landscape, and you’ve likely heard about the Arkema chemical plant fires – but did you know that the state is home to dozens of Superfund sites, some of which also experienced flooding during and after Hurricane Harvey?

While the EPA maintains that everything is under control, residents in areas that have long struggled with pollution feel very differently.

As the heart of the petrochemical industry in the United States, Texas has an extensive history of activities related to oil and gas extraction. Historically, lively manufacturing wasn’t always associated with care for the environment. All too often, the result was numerous contaminated sites that leached dioxins and heavy metals into soil and groundwater.

Some of these locations are on the Superfund list, which includes sites eligible for federal funding to assist with cleanup.

According to the EPA, flooding related to Hurricane Harvey impacted 13 sites, though the agency still needs to fully inspect these locations to identify if any barriers or other protective measures were compromised. The agency also claims that it collaborated with local officials and other stakeholders before the storm to “secure” sites as much as possible.

Floodwaters resulting from significant storms tend to include a hazardous stew of oil, sewage and other contaminants — even when a region is well-prepared for a natural disaster. Breaches of containment pools, broken plumbing lines and much more can contribute to filthy floodwaters.

In this case, some Texas residents are concerned that the flooding may have disturbed toxic sediment, damaged liners or otherwise compromised Superfund sites, releasing their contents into homes, neighborhoods, drinking water and more.

Under President Obama, research on climate change – and its potential impact on Superfund sites — was an important priority at the EPA. As a result, the agency performed some resilience preparations, including raising sites to prepare for flooding.

However, the Trump administration, including current EPA head Scott Pruitt, doesn’t recognize the validity of climate change – despite ample scientific evidence. And this stance extends beyond ideology, leading to funding cuts for programs designed to identify and mitigate climate change risks.

The Superfund fallout from Harvey may take months to fully calculate, as it will require painstaking inspection of questionable sites, along with extensive soil, water and air testing where protections may have failed during the storm. That process may reveal more extensive cleanup necessary to bring these sites up to standard — but it should also sound a warning bell.

Other sites in low-lying areas around America’s coasts remain vulnerable to rising sea levels, storm surge and flooding. Failure to preemptively protect these regions could create an ecological disaster that would add to the already considerable costs of cleaning up the devastation of a storm.

And chemical facilities and abandoned mining pits aren’t the only worry. Over a dozen nuclear facilities operate on or near the coastline. Meanwhile, in other areas, shuttered plants continue to store nuclear material on site. As Fukushima taught us, flooding can have a devastating effect on functional plants that aren’t well-maintained, and the results could be devastating for facilities located near major population centers.

Take Action!

Sign this Care2 petition urging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reinstate the Chemical Disaster Rule and uphold the EPA’s mandate to protect communities and the environment.

Photo credit: SC National Guard

37 comments

Caitlin B
Caitlin B4 months ago

thank you

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earthism i
earthism info4 months ago

We should correct our own mistakes

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Carl R
Carl R4 months ago

Thanks!!!

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heather g
heather g4 months ago

I wish Care2 authors would realize that we are members from all over the world - not only American. Yes, we have no understanding of the word 'superfund'.

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Jetana A
Jetana A4 months ago

Nasty! We really need toxic sites cleaned up. Petition signed, for what that's worth....

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell4 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell4 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Carole R
Carole R4 months ago

Frightening.

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Julie C
Julie C4 months ago

This is a major warning that pollution does not stay local. That's why we need strong national laws.

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Colin Clauscen
Colin C4 months ago

Hurricane Harvey's aftermath will I think be around for awhile.

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