A hurricane the magnitude of Harvey would leave a path of destruction literally anywhere it determined to strike. And yet hitting an area known for its roots in petrochemical processing has meant the damages are just that much more dire.
The AP has reported that Harvey has flooded 13 Superfund cleanup sites in the Houston area, drawing concern over the long term impacts of toxic industrial byproducts spreading throughout the region.
Among them is the Highlands Acid Pit, which the AP says was “filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations.” Despite an extensive excavation in the 1980s, the EPA continues to monitor the site because it’s considered a potential threat to groundwater.
The San Jacinto River Waste Pits is another Superfund site that the AP identified as being submerged with floodwaters, and said the EPA was set was set to decide this year whether to proceed with a $97 million cleanup proposal, intended to remove toxic waste from a paper mill that operated there in the 1960s. One of the biggest threats is said to be the contaminated soil onsite, that’s riddled with dioxins and other toxins linked to birth defects and cancer.
The current strategy to address the threat of contaminated soil migrating down the San Jacinto River has been a temporary fabric cap covering the waste. But according to an EPA review, “the cap has required extensive repairs on at least six occasions since it was installed in 2011, with large sections becoming displaced or going missing.”
Local experts have expressed concerns throughout the years, over the risks that could come from the flooding of these Superfund sites – specifically, how sites like San Jacinto could spread toxic waste to other regions. According to Kara Cook-Schultz, who studies Superfund sites for the advocacy group TexPIRG, environmentalists have warned for years about the potential for flooding at Texas Superfund sites, and “If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits, then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the wider Houston area.”