News Feature | April 3, 2018

Houston Contends With Chemical Spill Fallout

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

flooding houston slideshow new

Houston residents living near a chemical plant damaged by Hurricane Harvey are seeking answers about what they were exposed to during the storm and why they were not warned about a major chemical spill.

During Hurricane Harvey last year, thousands of gallons of chemical-tainted water spread from the Arkema factory into city flood water, according to The Houston Chronicle.

During the storm, “flooding from Hurricane Harvey had knocked out power. Thousands of gallons of chemical-laden water had spilled into the floodwaters. Soon, the company's stores of volatile organic peroxides would overheat and produce fires noxious enough to make first responders vomit. The last workers evacuated by floating over a 6-foot chain-link fence in a small boat,” the report said.

Yet residents say the company has done little to help residents understand what they may have been exposed to.

In fact, after the chemical contamination occurred, company officials were not the first to speak with residents about the issue. The first tip residents got that they should leave their homes was from the National Guard.

“Today, they are angry about all they did not know until the National Guard came knocking on doors that day. They say they still know very little about any potential health effects from the flood and fires. They don't know what chemicals they've been exposed to — or about any threat from air they breathe or water they drink,” the report said.

“They say the company failed them before the accident, and the state and federal government afterward,” it continued.

The Arkema flooding is an example of a bigger problem, according to the report:

The activity of the company and government regulators surrounding the Arkema disaster falls into the pattern that has emerged more than a half-year after the storm, a Houston Chronicle/Associated Press review of public records shows. The extent of the environmental assault is starting to emerge, and Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency declaration suspending state environmental rules remains in effect, making it more difficult for local authorities to press their case against companies that lost control of their petroleum and chemical products.

A company spokesperson stated it has taken steps to assist residents near the factory.

"We're extremely sorry that our incident caused an evacuation at a time when our neighbors were already reeling from a historic storm," the spokesperson said, per the report.

Texas officials are hoping to be better equipped to handle floods in the future. After hurricane season left Houston in disrepair, Texas decided to draft a flood plan for the entire state for the first time. The project will consider the state's vulnerabilities and plan projects to mitigate them, according to The Texas Tribune.

The damage from Hurricane Harvey has put Houston on a long road to recovery. “Harvey dumped a record 50-plus inches of rain around Houston, putting highways under water and killing more than 70 people along the Texas coast. In Harris County, which includes Houston, at least 136,000 homes and other structures were flooded,” Insurance Journal reported.

Image credit: "Texas National Guard," The National Guard © 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/