Hurricane Harvey’s toxic impact deeper than public told

HOUSTON (AP) — A toxic onslaught from the nation’s petrochemical hub was largely overshadowed by the record-shattering deluge of Hurricane Harvey as residents and first responders struggled to save lives and property.

More than a half-year after floodwaters swamped America’s fourth-largest city, the extent of this environmental assault is beginning to surface, while questions about the long-term consequences for human health remain unanswered.Panther-Creek-Galena-Park-web

County, state and federal records pieced together by The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reveal a far more widespread toxic impact than authorities publicly reported after the storm slammed into the Texas coast in late August and then stalled over the Houston area.

Some 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines line the nation’s largest energy corridor.

Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay.

Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxic substances released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains.

In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated.

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Houston Chronicle version:  https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/In-Houston-and-beyond-Harvey-s-spills-leave-a-12771237.php

Climate change, runaway development worsen Houston floods

By FRANK BAJAK and SETH BORENSTEIN

HOUSTON (AP) — With clay soil and tabletop-flat terrain, Houston has endured flooding for generations. Its 1,700 miles of man-made channels struggle to dispatch storm runoff to the Gulf of Mexico.

Now the nation’s fourth-largest city is being overwhelmed with more frequent and more destructive floods. The latest calamity occurred April 18, killing eight people and causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. The worsening floods aren’t simple acts of nature or just costly local concerns. Federal taxpayers get soaked too.

Extreme downpours have doubled in frequency over the past three decades, climatologists say, in part because of global warming. The other main culprit is unrestrained development in the only major U.S. city without zoning rules. That combination means more pavement and deeper floodwaters. Critics blame cozy relations between developers and local leaders for inadequate flood-protection measures.

An Associated Press analysis of government data found that if Harris County, which includes Houston, were a state it would rank in the top five or six in every category of repeat federal flood losses — defined as any property with two or more losses in a 10-year period amounting to at least $1,000 each.

Since 1998, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid more than $3 billion in today’s dollars for flood losses in metropolitan Houston.

While repeat federal flood relief payouts average about $3,000 per square mile nationally, they are nearly half a million dollars per square mile in metro Houston. Six of Texas’ eight federally declared disasters since December 2013 included floods.

houston repeat flood loss graphic

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