As if losing their homes and possessions wasn't bad enough, survivors of Hurricane Harvey are now surrounded by a “toxic soup” of chemicals and pathogens.
According to Alternet, extremely high and dangerous levels of E. coli were detected in Texas’ floodwaters, reaching up to 135 times those considered safe.
Additionally, high levels of heavy metals including lead and arsenic were discovered.
This life-threatening combination is the result of Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking 50 inches of rain dropped in and around Houston, which swamped sewage systems and flooded Superfund sites, petrochemical plants, and oil refineries.
The New York Times conducted its own research and published a report detailing these troubling findings after the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refused to release information about their testing and what they had found.
The publication connected with Winifred Hamilton, director of the Environmental Health Service at the Baylor College of Medicine, who joined forces with Lauren Stadler and Qilin Li, researchers from Rice University, Jesse Crain III — also from Baylor — and Loren Raun and Lisa Montemayor from the City of Houston.
After finding so much contamination, the researchers became especially concerned about families who have returned to their neighborhoods to begin clean-up efforts and attempts to salvage some of their possessions.
“I’d be wearing a mask with a filter,’’ Hamilton said, “and goggles and gloves, with rubber boots. I would change my clothes immediately after leaving the house, and put them in the wash with nothing else.”
“Mold is taking off all over the city,” Hamilton added. “People with allergies or asthma are particularly sensitive to it. If people have bad headaches, respiratory problems, swelling of a limb or a bad rash, go see a doctor right away. Don’t assume it will go away on its own.’’
Additionally, Hamilton warned parents against allowing their kids to play outdoors.
“We have a lot of what looks like sand, like something you might want to make a castle of,” she said. “But this is not clean sand, this is sludge sediment.”
“Don’t let your children play in sediment from the flood. We don’t want children playing in lead.”
This natural disaster has created a domino effect of devastation. The storm, itself, claimed many lives — and now, the wreckage it leaves behind threatens countless more. Hurricane Harvey may have passed, but Houston's troubles are far from over.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters, Rick Wilking