As efforts to rebuild have slowly begun in areas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, officials continue to warn of lingering environmental hazards, including the health risks posed by receding floodwater.
In a news release Sunday night, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cautioned that floodwaters can contain bacteria and contaminants, and conceal downed power lines, large objects and animals. Gov. Greg Abbott gave a similar warning in a Sunday interview with CNN's "State of the Union," saying, "These waters are filled both with chemicals [and] waste, things like that, that can pose real health hazards." He referenced a "multitude of dangers to public health because of the flooding waters."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to access 11 ultra-polluted Superfund sites damaged by the storm, raising concerns about the spread of toxins.
Thousands of people are still without drinking water, including some of the 120,000 residents of Beaumont – many of whom have queued in long lines for bottled water. The TCEQ, in its release, said 188 water systems in the state have boil-water notices, and 37 others have been shut down. Nearly 85,000 homes and businesses were still without power Sunday, Reuters reported.
Over 400 wastewater treatment plants are also not fully operational, and wastewater from some facilities has spilled due to flooding, according to the TCEQ release. The agency said it is "actively working to monitor facilities that have reported spills, conduct outreach and provide technical guidance to all other wastewater facilities in flood-impacted areas."
And in Crosby, a 1.5 mile evacuation zone that's been in place since Tuesday around an Arkema Inc. facility was lifted overnight. With little notice, the company exploded its six remaining chemical containers Sunday in what was described by officials as a "controlled burn" and a "proactive approach to minimize the impacts to the community." The company had initially said it would not destroy the remaining chemicals after flood-related damage caused a series of explosions at the facility. The Houston Chronicle reported that notice wasn't given until after the ignition operations had already begun on Sunday.
At a news conference Monday morning, representatives for Arkema said soot from the ignition operations was being tested and that there was no expected impact on the area's water supply. They confirmed that five of the company's facilities in the Gulf Coast had been impacted by the storm, though not as badly as the Crosby plant, and could not say when the Crosby facility would reopen.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice began repopulating two Richmond prisons Monday morning, after the facilities were evacuated last week amid flooding from the storm. About 1,400 inmates will be returned to the all-male Jester 3 and Vance Units starting today.
Three other prisons, housing some 4,500 male inmates among them, remain evacuated. In an email Monday, the TDCJ said the Ramsey, Stringfellow and Terrrell Units will continued to be assessed and, once safe, will also be repopulated.