As Houston residents continue to move past Hurricane Harvey, another group is looking at months of data collection and research. Scientists in the greater Houston area are only beginning their extensive research into the environmental impacts that Harvey had on one of the largest cities in America.
One of the groups of researchers comes from the Houston Health Department. The health department’s goal is to mitigate the risks of everyday living in a now contaminated area.
“The most consistent issue we saw across the city were high bacteria levels, specifically high E. coli levels,” states Lisa Montemayor, a health department researcher. She goes on to say that most of the E. coli levels were in bayous across the city. Some of the bayous cleared up after a few days, but other bayous have yet to return to normal.
Bacteria is one of the easy pollutants to test for, but scientists and researchers have yet to test many of the industrial areas of Houston. Businesses like Motiva Enterprises, an oil refinery, had to shut down operations because of the flood waters that ran through their buildings. Sediment and wildlife near these areas are more than likely contaminated with pollutants such as dioxins and miniscule pieces of metal. While completely safe to physically walk on, this soil can remain harmful to humans for years to come. Researchers are predicting that in 20 years there will be an increase in cancer cases within the Houston area which will potentially date back to Hurricane Harvey.
This is sadly no surprise to the scientists and researchers of the Houston area. Two months ago, a superfund was proven to have 2,300 times the waste traces necessary to trigger immediate cleanup by the EPA. While other superfunds will pose less of a risk than this outbreak, testing and cleanup of superfund areas in Houston are nowhere near complete.
The good news is that the city of Houston and the National Science Foundation has awarded millions to the research and cleanup efforts. These awards will go a long way in providing waste prevention, waste removal, and in funding the research that fuels these efforts. However, the CEO of the Houston Advanced Research Center is right when she said, “the information we have right now is just the tip of the iceberg.” Texans will recover, but the environmental face of Houston is likely to never be the same again.