Toxic spills caused by Hurricane Harvey worse than first reported

Toxic spills caused by Hurricane Harvey worse than first reported
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Hurricane Harvey's impact on Houston's petrochemical plants was far greater than revealed, according to a new report from The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle released Thursday.

Looking at county, state and federal records, the report found more than 100 releases of toxic substances on land, in the water or in the air due to the storm.

In one documented case, nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater from just one chemical plant mixed with storm water.

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Harvey devastated Houston, leaving tens of thousands of people temporarily homeless as it flooding huge swatches of the city. The new report is calling attention to the potentially long-lasting effects the storm had on the environment.

Houston is considered the energy capital of the country, home to 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,500 miles of oil and gas pipelines.

Harvey's destruction contributed to the release of various hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals including benzene, vinyl chloride and butadiene. 

Looking into Harvey's impact six months after the storm, the AP and Chronicle found that only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators, and that no enforcement actions have been announced.

The man who headed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regional office during the storm, Samuel Coleman, said the agency's initial goal was "addressing any environmental harms as quickly as possible, as opposed to making announcements about what the problem was."

He told the two publications that in hindsight the agency should have alerted the public to "dozens of spills."

The impact on a handful of older chemical plants were documented in real time during the storm, including the flooding of the Arkema Inc., plant, which resulted in two explosions.

But the report found that the number of spills from all chemical plants was impossible to tally during the storm.

In September, the AP also reported that there was evidence toxic waste had leaked from a number of Superfund sites located in Houston.