Floodwaters throughout the city could be contaminated.
As flooding in Houston continues, it’s undeniable that we’re looking at far-reaching and long-lasting damage to infrastructure, the economy, and of course to people’s lives. And it’s becoming clear just how big a disaster the environmental impact in Texas and Louisiana will be.
The Associated Press has investigated five Superfund sites around Houston, areas of extremely hazardous pollution that require long-term cleanup. Houston alone is home to more than a dozen of these sites. The ones the AP investigated have been completely flooded and there is a high risk that floodwaters around the city are contaminated with toxic compounds like dioxin (which in its most dangerous form causes birth defects and long-term health problems like leukemia).
Though the EPA has investigated two sites near Corpus Christi, where Harvey made landfall more than a week ago, there’s still no one from the agency at the sites in Houston, where the flooding is catastrophic. A spokeswoman for the agency told the AP they would wait until the flooding receded before investigating and wouldn’t commit to a time frame.
The head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, best known for wanting to get rid of the EPA, has made it clear that his objectives for the agency involve stripping as much regulation and environmental protection as possible and making the cleaning of sites like these Superfunds the top, if not sole, priority. But ignoring prevention makes cleanup later more difficult. Pruitt’s also trying to legitimize climate-change denial, even as the severity of storms and flooding along the Gulf Coast has intensified in recent years–and refusing to acknowledge a problem doesn’t usually lead to addressing it.
Trump and Pruitt are proposing massive budget and personnel cuts to the EPA. Pruitt has also stalled an Obama-era safety policy for large chemical plants, like the one that exploded near Houston on Thursday.
It’s hard to estimate impact of flooded Superfund sites because the nature of the contaminants is different at every one. But hopefully Pruitt can follow through on his one public safety-related goal for the agency he wants to run into the ground.
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