There’s an “Unbearable” Chemical Smell Hovering Over Parts of Houston, and Experts Are Worried. – Mother Jones
This story was originally published by New Republic and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.As historic rainfall and flooding continue to pound America’s fourth-most populated city, residents of Houston’s industrial fence-line communities are reporting strong gas- and chemical-like smells coming from the many refineries and chemical plants nearby.
“I’ve been smelling them all night and off and on this morning,” said Bryan Parras, an activist at the grassroots environmental justice group TEJAS. Parras, who lives and works in Houston’s East End, on Sunday said some residents are experiencing “headaches, sore throat, scratchy throat and itchy eyes.”
Parras said there are chemical smells in the air all over the East End, but particularly in directly communities adjacent to Houston’s sweeping petrochemical industry. And residents can’t escape the smell, because flood waters have overtaken the city, and could reach over four feet in some spots. “Fenceline communities can’t leave or evacuate so they are literally getting gassed by these chemicals,” Parras said.
Houston is the number one industrial city in the United States. It is also the fourth largest city in the USA. There is so much pollution happening right now with the flooding that no one is really getting their heads around it. It could start with the massive amounts of oil which is lying on the Gulf Of Mexico seabed. We know about this from the BP oil spill. That has just been churned up and sprayed around thanks to Harvey.
Just two hours ago Exxon and Shell disclosed pollution release in Houston:
Exxon, Shell and other companies said pollutants have been released from their refineries operated as torrential rains damaged storage tanks and other industrial facilities on the Texas Coast.
Shell told state regulators this week that a floating roof over a tank at its oil refinery in Deer Park, Texas, partially sank during the heavy rainfall. The company said 100 pounds of benzene and 100 pounds of toluene were released.
A similar event happened at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s (XOM) refinery in Baytown, Texas. David Gray, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the company reported the release of 15 pounds of benzene. The EPA classifies benzene as a carcinogen. Toluene, a solvent, is less toxic.
A Shell spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This is an unprecedented storm, and we have taken every effort to minimize emissions and safely shut down equipment,” said Exxon spokeswoman Charlotte Huffaker. She said the Irving, Texas-based company was monitoring emission levels and was committed to complying with environmental laws.
Other refinery and chemical plant operators have reported releases due to Harvey, which came ashore as a hurricane but was later downgraded to a tropical storm.
So what this all tends to reveal is that floodwater is extremely polluted. It is not safe to wade in. It is some of the dirtiest water possible:
Health and environmental experts recommend people avoid intentional contact with flood water due to potentially high levels of contamination. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says substances like raw sewage and other chemicals can get into the water, as storage containers of industrial chemicals or solvents can be disturbed or moved by surging flood waters.
Exposure to contaminated flood water is linked to health issues like intestinal problems, upset stomach, headache, and flu symptoms. “ Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention,” says the EPA.
“The bacterial count in floodwater is extremely high,” says Bradley. “The chance of getting a skin infection is really quite serious.” Bradley says exposure to chemicals can cause short term poisonings or increase a person’s risk for long term health complications.
And as if all this were not enough, yesterday this was posted by Common Dreams. The risk of nuclear power plant issues is low but if it happens the impact is huge:
Credible Threat of Severe Accident at Texas Nuclear Reactors Still Running During Hurricane
TAKOMA PARK, MD – Watchdog groups today warned that there is “a credible threat of a severe accident” at the two nuclear reactors still operating at 100% power in Bay City, TX in the midst of severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. The groups called for the immediate shutdown of the South Texas Project (STP) which sits behind an embankment that is at risk of breaching, given the unprecedented volume of water raining down in the region.
“Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the STP operator have previously recognized a credible threat of a severe accident initiated by a breach of the embankment wall that surrounds the 7,000-acre reactor cooling water reservoir,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD.
A 12-mile long earth and cement dike surrounds South Texas Project’s Main Cooling Reservoir. The top of the cooling reservoir wall is between 65 and 67 feet above mean sea level, with the reactor site situated below at 29 feet above mean sea level. The NRC is not providing a status report on the water level in the reservoir where the normal maximum operating level is 49 feet above mean sea level.
A breach of the embankment wall would create an external flood potentially impacting the electrical supply from the switchyard to the reactor safety systems. This could cause high-energy electrical fires and other cascading events initiating a severe accident leading to core damage. Additionally, any significant loss of cooling water inventory in the Main Cooling Reservoir would reduce cooling capacity to the still operating reactors that could result in a meltdown.
“However remote, it’s simply prudent that the operator put this reactor into its safest condition, cold shutdown,” Gunter concluded.
Makes you wonder when the USA will have its own Fukushima type issue.
That aside, all of this reveals the highly toxic human lifestyle. The by-products of what makes our lives convenient. It is part of our culture. We assume everyone cleans up their messes, but we also know that is a bad assumption. Now all that mess is mixed up in water that is soaking homes, cars and trucks, plants and trees, yards, and the people moving around in it. It’s some scary stuff that few report in detail.