The Federal Emergency Management Agency tucked an alarming note into a Friday media release: the Environmental Protection Agency has removed 517 containers of "unidentified, potentially hazardous material" from Texas toxic waste sites contaminated by Hurricane Harvey flooding.
The one-sentence warning came without any real context.
What chemicals? What toxic waste (also known as a Superfund) site? Are humans at risk? Is the surrounding environment at risk? What size are these arbitrary "containers'?
What we do know, thanks to on-the-ground (or rather, on-the-boat) coverage from Associated Press reporters, is that nearly a dozen Houston-area Superfund sites were flooded by Hurricane Harvey rains. One of them in particular — Pasadena's U.S. Oil Recovery site — drew alarm from experts in toxic waste management after aerial images from the site depicted what looked like dark plumes of chemicals
spreading into the nearby shipping and fishing waterway.
The EPA has yet to speak publicly about the U.S. Oil Superfund site, but the group overseeing the site's cleanup told AP that they reported at least three separate spills on the property during Harvey. The site contains an array of different cancer-causing toxins
which can be easily spread through drinking contaminated water, eating fish from contaminated water, or breathing in fumes from leaked chemicals.