Can I Retrieve My Belongings?
Areas of Houston are peppered with Superfund sites (sites marked for their high levels of toxic waste) as well as numerous oil refineries and industrial plants. Damage from Hurricane Harvey meant that much of the water flooding homes and streets was highly toxic and contaminated, even more toxic than normal floodwaters.
The chief medical officer of Houston, Dr. David Persse, said “Everybody has to consider the floodwater contaminated.”
Multiple sources have confirmed that damaged refineries, sewage backup, and flooding at Superfund sites has led to high amounts of dangerous bacteria and chemicals in the water. In some neighborhoods like Baytown, Highlands, and Channelview, the water is filled with cancer-causing dioxins from a local hazardous waste dump. In Buffalo Bayou, living rooms became breeding grounds for E. coli—leaving behind 135 times the safe amount of bacteria.
The sludge and silt left behind by the flood (which looks like sand) contains large amounts of lead and arsenic. Serious mold growth has led to breathing issues, especially among those with pre-existing lung conditions.
In short, do not enter your home or use its water until your local health and safety office has given the thumbs up. Even if they have, protect any open wounds you may have, and use a mask when you go back to retrieve your belongings or do work on your house. Please protect your eyes, ears, and nose as well. Avoid any standing water—residents in Buffalo Bayou and other neighborhoods have reportedly contracted staph infections from prolonged contact with bacteria. Unfortunately, the conditions inside of homes (dark, no water flow, damp, warm) has led to viciously rapid bacterial and mold growth. Do not underestimate the health risks. If you can, let professionals handle your home if your neighborhood has received a hazardous health warning.