According to a joint report by the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle, petrochemical contamination resulting from Hurricane Harvey is far more extensive than previously believed, with many toxic spills going unreported to the public in the wake of the storm.
Some of these failures to report can simply be attributed to being lost in the chaos of the storm according to Lise Olsen, investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle.
“Everybody’s eyes were on the sky on Arkema when that plant north of Houston, northeast, was ready to blow up essentially in the aftermath of Harvey,” Olsen said. “But what we weren’t really watching out for was the amount of toxics leaking into groundwater.”
The exact scale of the problem is not yet known, as officials must wait until spills have reached Galveston Bay. This, on top of ongoing cleanup and solution efforts, makes the timeline for pinpointing the extent of the problem unknown, as many spills went unreported.
“When we told fire marshals and emergency managers about some of these spills, some of them said ‘What?’ They were never told,” Olsen said. “We had fire departments very busy with saving people, but those are the same people who normally get called when there’s a big toxic spill that blocks a public road or goes into a neighborhood.”
Multiple federal and state agencies are currently working towards getting a handle on the situation, but tests have thus far been insufficient.