Harvey Overwhelms Toxic Sites. Trump EPA Unprepared

September 4, 2017

Bad enough that Houstonians will be dealing with mud, sludge, sewage, microbial and pathogenic pollution, – but the concentration of petrochemical production in the area means that in addition, an unknown quantity of toxic chemicals is part of the flood’s leftovers.

Not all toxic waste sites are particularly dangerous to the public at large – if they are protected and stable. The danger arises is something occurs to mobilize those toxins in a biologically active form.

Another example of how climate change, because it overwhelms the engineered tolerances of existing infrastructure, makes everything more complicated, more dangerous, more expensive.

Associated Press:

As Dwight Chandler sipped beer and swept out the thick muck caked inside his devastated home, he worried whether Harvey’s floodwaters had also washed in pollution from the old acid pit just a couple blocks away.

Long a center of the nation’s petrochemical industry, the Houston metro area has more than a dozen Superfund sites, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being among America’s most intensely contaminated places. Many are now flooded, with the risk that waters were stirring dangerous sediment.

The Highlands Acid Pit site near Chandler’s home was filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations. Though 22,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste and soil were excavated from the acid pits in the 1980s, the site is still considered a potential threat to groundwater, and the EPA maintains monitoring wells there.

When he was growing up in Highlands, Chandler, now 62, said he and his friends used to swim in the by-then abandoned pit.

“My daddy talks about having bird dogs down there to run and the acid would eat the pads off their feet,” he recounted on Thursday. “We didn’t know any better.”

The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.

On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” EPA staff had checked on two Superfund sites in Corpus Christi on Thursday and found no significant damage.

AP 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 did not respond to questions about why its personnel had not yet been able to do so.

“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,” the EPA statement said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking with reporters at a news conference on Saturday after the AP report was published, said he wants the EPA “in town to address the situation.”

Turner said he didn’t know about the potential environmental concerns soon enough to discuss them with President Donald Trump.

“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.”

At the Highlands Acid Pit on Thursday, the Keep Out sign on the barbed-wire fence encircling the 3.3-acre site barely peeked above the churning water from the nearby San Jacinto River.

A fishing bobber was caught in the chain link, and the air smelled bitter. A rusted incinerator sat just behind the fence, poking out of the murky soup.

Across the road at what appeared to be a more recently operational plant, a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, might have been inside them when the storm hit.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a top priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the Superfund program by 30 percent, though congressional Republicans are likely to approve a less severe reduction.

Like Trump, Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the predictions of climate scientists that warmer air and seas will produce stronger, more drenching storms.

Business Insider:

In a fiery and personal statement on Sunday, the EPA dubbed the story “incredibly misleading,” saying it “creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.”

“Through aerial imaging, EPA has already conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites – 28 of those sites show no damage, and 13 have experienced flooding,” the statement said. “This was left out of the original story, along with the fact that EPA and state agencies worked with responsible parties to secure Superfund sites before the hurricane hit. Leaving out this critical information is misleading.”

But the EPA’s statement raised eyebrows particularly because of the personal criticisms it leveled against the report’s author, Michael Biesecker, attempting to undermine the report’s credibility by saying Biesecker wrote the story “from the comfort of Washington.”

The statement said Biesecker has a “history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story,” citing a sensational Breitbart News story that said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. The AP’s original report relied on the public schedule released by the EPA, but corrected its story when the formal meeting was canceled.

“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey,” EPA associate administrator Liz Bowman said. “Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

The Associated Press responded to EPA’s statement Sunday evening, saying its reporting “was the result of on the ground reporting as well as AP’s strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices.”

“We object to the EPA’s attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from ‘the comforts of Washington’ and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story.”

EPA statement here.

Texas Tribune September 4:

As efforts to rebuild have slowly begun in areas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, officials continue to warn of lingering environmental hazards, including the health risks posed by receding floodwater.

In a news release Sunday night, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cautioned that floodwaters can contain bacteria and contaminants, and conceal downed power lines, large objects and animals. Gov. Greg Abbott gave a similar warning in a Sunday interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying, “These waters are filled both with chemicals [and] waste, things like that, that can pose real health hazards.” He referenced a “multitude of dangers to public health because of the flooding waters.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to access 11 ultra-polluted Superfund sites damaged by the storm, raising concerns about the spread of toxins.

Thousands of people are still without drinking water, including the 120,000 residents of Beaumont – many of whom have queued in long lines for bottled water. The TCEQ, in its release, said 188 water systems in the state have boil-water notices, and 37 others have been shut down.



2 Responses to “Harvey Overwhelms Toxic Sites. Trump EPA Unprepared”

  1. renewableguy Says:

    May I be forgiven to bring up the name of Roy Spencer. I feel this is an important little rebuttal to one of Spencer’s latest blog.


    Spencer has made the claim of that

    I examined all of the major hurricane (Cat 3+) strikes in Texas since 1870 and plotted them as red dots on the time series of sea surface temperature variations over the western Gulf of Mexico. As can be seen, major hurricanes don’t really care whether the Gulf is above average or below average in temperature:

    He compared this to anomalies in temperature but yet we can’t see or know how much above 80*F this temperature is. Cat 3 needs warm enough water to spin up that high.

    Noticing that the number of hurricanes cat 3+ actually accelerates over time since 1870. 1870 to 1950 there are 8 hurricanes of cat3+
    1950 to present there are 14 hurricanes of cat 3+

    1950 is the start of the IPCC saying humans had a significant impact.

  2. The Libertarian and Re3publican slant of the Texas Legal system has it’s to be guaranteed consequences.


    An acute housing crisis is starting to grip thousands of other families in south-east Texas as the floodwaters ebb away, with a death toll put at 60 on Monday. More than 180,000 houses in the Houston area have been badly damaged, with only a fraction of occupants owning any flood insurance. And under Texas law, rent must still be paid on damaged dwellings, unless they are deemed completely uninhabitable.

    A spokeswoman for the city of Houston’s housing department said city officials “are aware these problems exist” but said that state law deals with the situation. She said the city was still assessing the total number of people in need of housing assistance.

    Under the Texas property code, if a rental premises is “totally unusable” due to an external disaster then either the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease through written notice. But if the property is “partially unusable” because of a disaster, a tenant may only get a reduction in rent determined by a county or district court.

    “There are a lot of property owners who aren’t conscious of what has gone on; they are being rude and kicking people out,” said Isela Bezada, an unemployed woman who lived with 10 family members in a Houston house until her landlord took her to court to evict her after the hurricane hit.

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