News Feature | December 20, 2017

Three Months After Harvey, Water Quality Questions Linger

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Even three months after Hurricane Harvey hit land and decimated areas of Texas, there are still questions about the water quality aftermath.

In particular, as storm waters washed over so-called “Superfund sites,” federally-designated areas containing hazardous waste, they brought unknown levels of contamination into source supplies.

“Three months after Hurricane Harvey struck the shores of Texas, some local environmental groups say they are in the dark about the safety of federal Superfund sites damaged during the storm,” PBS reported. “The lack of information about how the Superfund sites might influence the river’s overall water quality and surrounding communities worries Jackie Young, founder of the environmental group Texas Health Environment Alliance.”

Specifically, Young is concerned that the U.S EPA, local, and state government officials have told the group that there is nothing to worry about, despite the obvious storm damage to the site and potential for contaminants to reach water.

“Preliminary data from the EPA indicated that in sediment samples taken around the site, dioxins levels spikes 2,300 times above acceptable levels,” per PBS. “Part of the EPA’s recovery plan is to remove most of the nearly 212,000 cubic yards of toxic waste at the San Jacinto site in the coming years. But it’s difficult to establish how much of the waste escaped into the river and nearby bayou.”

While federal action to clean up the Superfund sites damaged by the hurricane could take years, it’s still unclear whether local drinking supplies have been imperiled our should be receiving extra treatment efforts. One indicator that source water is in peril can be found in the environmental fallout.

“Nearly three months after the storm’s destruction, the more than 500 dolphins … in Upper Galveston Bay still are struggling to recover,” reported the Houston Chronicle. “During Harvey, about 149 million gallons of raw sewage and industrial discharge poured into neighboring communities and waterways. About 100 companies, including Valero Energy, ExxonMobil and Arkema, reported spilling chemicals, some which undoubtedly reached the bay.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "PORT ARANSAS HISTORY PART 3,” Bill Strain, 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: