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Aldo Leopold

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September 1 2017 12:24 AM   QuickQuote Quote  




The Perfect Storm For A Toxic Stew of Health and Environmental Hazards in Houston’s Floodwaters

AUG. 31, 2017 nytimes.com

Officials in Houston are just beginning to grapple with the health and environmental risks that lurk in the waters dumped by Hurricane Harvey, a stew of toxic chemicals, sewage, debris and waste that still floods much of the city.

Flooded sewers are stoking fears of cholera, typhoid and other infectious diseases. Runoff from the city’s sprawling petroleum and chemicals complex contains any number of hazardous compounds. Lead, arsenic and other toxic and carcinogenic elements may be leaching from some two dozen Superfund sites in the Houston area.

Porfirio Villarreal, a spokesman for the Houston Health Department, said the hazards of the water enveloping the city were self-evident.

“There’s no need to test it,” he said. “It’s contaminated. There’s millions of contaminants.”

He said health officials were urging people to stay out of the water if they could, although it is already too late for tens of thousands.

“We’re telling people to avoid the floodwater as much as possible. Don’t let your children play in it. And if you do touch it, wash it off,” Mr. Villarreal said. “Remember, this is going to go on for weeks.”

Harris County, home to Houston, hosts more than two dozen current and former toxic waste sites designated under the federal Superfund program. The sites contain what the Environmental Protection Agency calls legacy contamination: lead, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls, benzene and other toxic and carcinogenic compounds from industrial activities many years ago.

“It feels like someone has a hand on the crest of your noses and is pushing down on your nose and eyes,” said Bryan Parras, who lives in the East End area of Houston. “You start to get headaches, your eyes start itching, your throat gets scratchy. I noticed it going outside for just a second."

Daniel Cohan, an air pollution expert at Rice University, said the emissions could be even greater than what the companies are reporting to regulators, given the difficulties in ascertaining exactly what has been leaked. Several air quality monitors were also rendered inoperable by the hurricane.

“The emissions could be many times higher,”
he said.

An E.P.A. spokesman, David Gray, said in a statement that the agency would inspect two flooded Superfund sites in Corpus Christi, but he did not specify which ones or say whether additional sites elsewhere in Texas would be checked.

Residents near one of the region's most dangerous toxic dumps are increasingly concerned that the raging San Jacinto River, swollen to record heights by Tropical Storm Harvey, could be degrading concrete caps covering the site, allowing cancer causing dioxins to escape into the water.

The San Jacinto Waste Pits
, where waste from a nearby paper mill was buried, were at one time located on the banks of the river, but as the waterway changed course, they became submerged and have been the subject of concern and lawsuits for years.

Now, based on observations of the damage the flooded river is doing to concrete bunkers at the Interstate 10 bridge near Channelview, concern is growing about what might be happening to the caps covering the Superfund site itself.

Houston also lies at the center of the nation’s oil and chemical industry, its bustling shipping channel home to almost 500 industrial sites.

Damaged refineries and other oil facilities have already released more than two million pounds of hazardous substances into the air this week, including nitrogen oxide as well as benzene and other volatile organic compounds, according to a tally by the Environmental Defense Fund of company filings to Texas state environmental regulators.

Houston’s sewer systems have also long struggled with overflows, drawing scrutiny from federal regulators who worry about raw sewage seeping into groundwater.

“When it rains, the sewer pipes get infiltrated with storm water. The pipes exceed their capacity and you get discharge of a mix of sewer water and storm water,” Erin Bonney Casey, research director at Bluefield Research, a water-sector consultancy based in Boston, said.

“As you can imagine, this raises major concerns around disease and contamination of local water supplies.”

In Washington, the E.P.A. delayed implementing chemical plant safety rules designed to help prevent and mitigate chemical accidents after President Donald Trump took office.

"The rules that were delayed were designed to reduce the risk of chemical releases," said Peter Zalzal, special projects director and lead attorney at the E.D.F. "This kind of situation underscores why we shouldn't be rolling these rules back."

Earlier this year, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would repeal the new E.P.A. rules. The bill was cosponsored by Texas Republican House members, and the companion bill in the Senate had the backing of both Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Many who sponsored the legislation have accepted donations from the chemical industry, the American Chemical Council and Arkema Inc.

Arkema and its industry trade organization, the American Chemistry Council, had filed comments objecting to several of these key components of the proposed chemical safety rules.

On Thursday morning, the Arkema chemical manufacturing and storage facility outside of Houston burst into flames, and black smoke billowed out after Harvey's floodwaters knocked out equipment used to keep the plant's volatile chemicals cool.

Fifteen sheriff's deputies were taken to the hospital for inhaling the irritants and a mandatory evacuation is in place for all residents living within 1.5 mules of the chemical plant in southeast Texas.

A public records search indicates the plant was censured with $90,000 in in fines as recently as February for violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration relating to "management of highly hazardous chemicals."

The stricter E.P.A. rules for chemical plants like Arkema would have taken place March 14 but following industry lobbying, E.P.A. chief Scott Pruitt delayed the Obama-era rule until 2019.









good thing president orange julius is gutting the epa's budget
crunkmoose
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September 1 2017 11:45 PM   QuickQuote Quote  
No surprise. Texas hates funding anything environmental and is always willing to get rid of safety regulations to help out huge corporations.
Aldo Leopold
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September 4 2017 8:24 PM   QuickQuote Quote  



EPA Attacks AP Reporter For Story About Flooding At Houston Superfund Sites

Taking a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency published personal attacks against a journalist on its website Sunday and accused the Associated Press of ‘fake news’.

On Saturday, the AP had published a story showing that toxic dumping grounds in Texas weren’t being directly inspected by the EPA after they were flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

On Sunday, the EPA denied its negligence and called out one reporter on the story by name.

“The Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water,” the EPA claimed in its printed statement.

It accused Biesecker of “reporting from the comfort of Washington,” in one version of the statement which it has continually revised since publication.

The webpage also accused Biesecker of sloppy work and linked to an editorial behind a paywall that accused him of sensationalizing EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s ties to the energy industry and war on environmental regulations.

A previous link in the statement went to an article on right-wing news site Breitbart.

The most recent version concludes with a rambling paragraph defending Pruitt, excessively quoting the linked anonymous editorial from The Oklahoman, which seems to closely resemble the writing style of the rest of the current EPA statement.

The EPA's webpage has never before in its history used such tactics against journalists.

It was also previously equally rare that it could be seen as a right wing apologist for the industries it is sanctioned to monitor and police.

Meanwhile, AP journalists had in fact visited seven toxic Superfund sites in and around Houston, Texas, by boat, vehicle, and on foot.

Among what they found was a place known as the Highlands Acid Pit that contains remnants of toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from the oil and gas industry that was underwater, risking sediment being washed away into groundwater.

A sinkhole had also opened up near the French LTD and Sikes Disposal Pits in Crosby just outside of Houston.

Reporters also visited the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, Patrick Bayou Superfund site, and a site near the Brio Refining Inc. and Dixie Oil Processors.

Past testing at the bayou site showed pesticides, toxic heavy metals and PCBs in sediment there and the site has yet to get an approved cleanup plan.

The EPA also has yet to approve a $97 million cleanup plan for toxic waste at a 1960s paper mill at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site.

Yet the EPA continued to accuse the AP newswire of misleading the American people.

“The Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey,” said EPA Associate Administrator, Liz Bowman in a statement.

“Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

The AP pointed out the EPA’s statement says the agency has only inspected the Superfund sites in Texas “through aerial imaging” that found 13 out of 41 of the sites have been flooded and “could be facing damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey.”

The EPA said sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” The AP challenged this, saying only one site required a boat and the others were visited on foot or vehicle.

“We object to the EPA's attempts to discredit that report by suggesting it was completed solely from the 'comforts of Washington' and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor in a statement.

President Trump has repeatedly used this tactic of dismissing media reports that he doesn’t like as inaccurate and “fake news.”

Early this year he called the press the “enemy of the American people.”

President Trump again sought to discredit journalists in Texas during his visit Saturday. He praised the Coast Guard for flying into winds during Hurricane Harvey that “the media would not go into … unless it’s a really good story.”

A reporter there responded to Trump, “We were literally on the helicopter with the Coast Guard."








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crunkmoose
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September 5 2017 7:25 AM   QuickQuote Quote  
But I'm sure Hillary would have done exactly the same thing. /s
brian.
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September 5 2017 9:01 AM   QuickQuote Quote  
Originally posted by: brian.


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