A joint investigation by the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle reveals something about Hurricane Harvey recovery that officials aren’t talking about – massive petrochemical contamination, a toxic impact of the storm that’s far more widespread than previously suspected.
Lise Olsen, an investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says some of these problems were lost in the chaos of Harvey.
“Everybody’s eyes were on the sky on Arkema when that plant north of Houston, northeast, was ready to blow up essentially in the aftermath of Harvey,” Olsen says. “But what we weren’t really watching out for was the amount of toxics leaking into groundwater.”
She says chemicals released through industrial wastewater into neighborhoods will ultimately lead into the Galveston Bay, and it’s difficult to approximate the scale of the problem.
“Most of what we know is self-reported by these industrial sites,” she says. “There wasn’t much of any independent state or federal testing done, which made us all a little bit concerned, too.”
Another issue, she says, is that, a lot of the spills weren’t reported to the emergency responders who typically are told about big toxic waste spills.
“When we told fire marshals and emergency managers about some of these spills, some of them said ‘What?’ They were never told,” she says. “We had fire departments very busy with saving people, but those are the same people who normally get called when there’s a big toxic spill that blocks a public road or goes into a neighborhood.”
Olsen says that several federal and state agencies are supposed to investigate spills, but testing so far has been insufficient.
Written by Jen Rice.