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Hurricane Ike aftermath: More than just wind and water damage---what happened to the superfund sites on the coast?

The thing you have to consider beyond the damage from the hurricane are the dangers created in the aftermath.

Other hazards to consider: dangerous traffic conditions because of lack of traffic lights, health hazards from unsafe water and waste, vulnerability to additional bad weather, and so forth.

I've been curious about how "tip of the iceberg" the reporting on the Ike aftermath has been. I know media attention swung over to the Wall Street implosion, but I've also had the sense that the media thought: what's the story here? a hurricane hit, homes were destroyed, ho hum, BTDT.

So here's the story, folks: what besides homes and local businesses were vulnerable to the hurricane? What else may have been destroyed? What else may be littering the roads, land, and water? or maybe I should ask, what else might be polluting my community?

I began thinking about this when I received my town's latest update:

As of today, Tuesday, September 16 at 7 pm, the City is without power and CenterPoint Energy has advised that it may take up to 3 weeks to restore power. . .

The city does have water. [Redacted] Water Authority advises the City that the tap water may not be potable. Residents are advised to use bottled water or boil the tap water for at least one minute at a rolling boil prior to using the tap water for potable purposes. The City will advise when the tap water is safe to drink.

Sewage drains to local lift stations, but because the power is out, the lift stations are non-functional and the sewage overflows and drains to the lakes. Please try to limit your use of water and create as little wastewater as possible in order to minimize the untreated sewage and pollution running into the lakes.

[Redacted] Lake is closed to recreation - swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. The Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority industrial wastewater treatment plant on Port Road was inundated during the storm and its ponds of untreated industrial and sanitary waste overflowed into [Redacted] Lake. The Lake may be contaminated with industrial pollutants (volatile organic and other compounds) and bacteriological contaminants. Residents should avoid all contact with [Redacted] Lake water until further notice. (emphasis mine)

City hall is running on a generator with limited services. The Mayor is working with FEMA and other emergency management officials to assess the damage. The City has declared an emergency and is working with state and federal agencies to address recovery.

Many trees are down in the City but the streets are now open.

There is still a dusk to dawn curfew.

The City is recommending the Head of Household only come and assess property damage, call your insurance agent, and start the removal of debris. Please separate organic waste (trees, limbs, etc.) and other waste and bring these items to the curb in 2 separate piles.

Pickup for HOUSEHOLD TRASH ONLY will begin Tuesday, September 16 and continue through the regular scheduled days of Tuesday and Friday. Please place the trashcans on the driveway near your garage.

Municipal Court has been canceled for Thursday, September 18. Defendants will be receiving a reset letter by mail notifying of a new court date.

I live by quite a few superfund sites---chemical and manufacturing plants. In fact, my area is home to "the nation's largest concentration of chemical plants and refineries," many of which are not even close to being in compliance with the EPA and other safety standards.

Were they inundated too?

What all else has my area been exposed to as a result of breaches from the hurricane?

I already know my area was unsafe and unhealthy, before Ike hit. I've blogged about it many times, testified before the EPA in an open hearing, and pestered when, who where and how I can to improve health and safety conditions in my community.

In my humble speculative opinion, there are a major vulnerabilities here:

* citizen vulnerability due to unsafe plants and businesses that are not in compliance with standards
* those selfsame plants and businesses were in vulnerable spots hit hard by Hurricane Ike
* what confidence or reassurance can residents have that their only "hazard" is from "wastewater plants?"
* the biggest vulnerability? Republican politicians who enable these businesses to keep the standards lower than is best and safest for people who live there, and who do not enforce compliance---right before an election.

I heard in many places that there has been a bit of a media blackout but I think it's more nefarious than that. Or cleverer. However you like to put it.

I think the media has been oh-so-carefully spoonfed a "oh look, wind and water damage, so sad, displaced families, out of business businesses, tragic, but...eh, not much to see here, right? so let's all move on along." Bored with images of houses reduced to twigs and stories of trees littering roadways, everyone has redirected their attention over to the next news cycle.

Come back media. Dig underneath the trees. There is more to the story than mere wind and water damage, and ask why---why were these dangerous plants so vulnerable? Who should have done what, instead?

Julie is considering how to provide stability and normality for her family, while displaced for longer than expected as a result of Ike and its aftermath.

Comments

Jen said…
I keep watching, waiting for the "news" part of the news. After Katrina, the media were asking questions about what's in the water, how will people be able to move back into polluted areas, etc. You hear very little of that this time around.

It's like they've all agreed to hush up for the sake of the economy. And with a juicy election to cover, it's just so much more fun.

Keep letting us know what it's like there, on the ground.
MommyTime said…
Though-provoking, as always. Heart-breaking too. I keep looking for more information on the news and seeing the same pictures of the same flooded or obliterated neighborhood. You're right that major news outlets don't seem to be talking about the things you mention at all. I'm going to tweet this post and hope it gets passed on.
Julie, I have sent it on and hopefully Huffington Post guys should pick it up. If not I will send individual messages.

So no big wigs from anywhere showing their heads? Guess not a great photo op then for them like Gustav.

May be you should pull the heart strings and tell a story of what a 'day in the life of a family' is like in your town. How do kids and elderly survive? What about schools? Hospital?

All the very, very best and please let us know if there is anything concrete that we, from afar, could do.

Lilly Evans, UK
Anonymous said…
Very concerning. When the Mississippi River flooded this Spring a similiar report was heard about the toxins and chemicals floating in the water.

It is ALWAYS the aftermath that reveals the weakness and the major media outlets just move on to the next Palin story.
Anonymous said…
Julie- No, the news is NOT talking about this. It should be discussed. How are you guys holding up?

ONe idea for the kiddos is to make a story book about the hurricane. It may help them work through their feelings about being away from home right now and show you and your husband how they are viewing it. Plus, drawing pictures for it will keep little hands busy!
Unknown said…
I know when they talk about disaster preparedness, the quality of the water is a huge factor...

Make sure you have enough water to drink...

Make sure you have water purification tablets, etc.

Water is one of those required elements.

You know, I once commented on an inaccuracy of a story on CNN's site and sure enough, it was corrected within 24 hours.

Maybe a reach out to a news outlet to ask about the chemical plants in the area might be worth trying? I'll poke around to see where I think the best place to try that might be.

........

If there is one thing I am confident of... is that you and your husband are, in and of yourselves, a sense of stability for your children. It might take a lot out of the two of you, but you will do fine at being there for your kids and making the best for them out of your situation.
Magpie said…
Crap. No, that story is NOT being told.

All good wishes to you.
Anonymous said…
I am so frustrated by how much I DON'T know about this hurricane. Media should know by now how the story of a hurricane works. Simply standing in the storm ("wow, look at how I am almost being blown over!"), taking some pics of destruction and then packing up and going home is simply not enough. After Katrina, we didn't know how bad it was until many days, weeks, months afterward. Didn't they learn? Stick around! See how far this damage goes! I just have no idea how bad it is, I have no concept. I keep watching but don't know. Reading your blog finally gives me some kind of real indication. I am praying for the continued health and safety of your family.
Unknown said…
oh, you are right. We aren't hearing about that at all - our IKE news is now drizzling down to relief workers and some guy with a lion who took shelter in a church. There are much bigger stories & I just had no idea.
Anonymous said…
My husband was curious about this too as his employer is one of the biggest plants down there but even there internal news is quiet on any specifics.

Not a surprise that the media is not looking into anything too deeply. They wouldn't want to distract the POTUS candidates with too many real issues at once. It was enough of a battle to get them to pay attention to the economy instead of each other.
painted maypole said…
it's really scary. we saw that after katrina with the water in NOLA (our neighbor who was a researching scientist who told us about all her petri dishes etc that floated away...), with the oil plant leak, etc.

Your area seems to have even more of the toxic chemical plants and such. It really is scary. It may take decades to know the real damages all of this has caused.

i'm sorry I don't have softer words. It's scary. I hear you.

My hubby is driving out that way today to help for a few days. The media attention has not been what it should be, but we have not ALL forgottne you. ;)
flutter said…
if you need ANYTHING...
This is scary and we, up here in PA, are not hearing ANY of this, for sure.
Gwen said…
I'm sorry you're still not back and that life is so out of kilter. I know how tough that can be on kids, who depend on schedules and routines.

And no, as everyone else said, the story is not being told in the way it probably should. But that applies to almost everything in the media these days--even the economic meltdown coverage is sweeping a lot of stuff over into a dark corner.
Anonymous said…
Hello Julie!I'm here with all the folks at the library!

You got a probelm with pollution. I've been living in Houston for ten years now and I'm hoping to evolve into some type of super power lizard being! You're just seeing this pollution question from a negative angle.
LizP said…
Not that I am a conspiracy theorist or anything but ... does the White House have enough control over the media and financial arena to make the bail/buy outs news take centre stage? Katrina was on the news 24/7. We didn't even find out about Ike hitting until Sunday morning on the Today show. And rather than the whole "Hurricane 2008" melodrama they use it was sort of a side note.

The Bush Administration/Republican machine cannot afford to end up looking like incompetent morons yet again, especially right before the election. However by having everyone focus on how wonderful the government is for bailing out Lehman and AIG the collective eye is taken off the ball (so to speak).

The best of luck to you in TX. I know that members of our local Red Cross (Oregon) are in your area trying to render aid.
Anonymous said…
I think that the Wall Street news is just more dramatic and quicker. Digging up what you propose would take time AND work!
Anonymous said…
Today has been like the day from hell, doubled. I have tried to blog this all day and just now got to it.

It is nearly overwhelming, what seems to be one disaster piled on another. But this one needs attention, and attention now. There is far too much danger in ignoring it. I did finally get it blogged here.
You're absolutely right about the desire to either keep media out or send us packing.

Usually, we have no trouble catching rides on search/rescue/recovery boats in situations such as this one.

THIS time, however, we were told repeatedly by local authorities and volunteers that freaking FEMA had ordered them to keep the media out. Some entities followed the orders, others didn't.

It made our jobs much more difficult, as were were not granted the access we have come to expect.

This morning, I read a wire story in which FEMA bragged on how well things were going in that area.

And I laughed, thinking, "Yeah, and how would we know otherwise given that you aren't allowing anyone to survey and report on your so-called stellar response to Ike?"

Have you posed your superfund and chemical hazard questions to the Houston Chronicle? They certainly should be looking at that issue.
Anonymous said…
Julie - sorry to hear you are still displaced. Sometime, I would like to discuss this with you (though not on the blog: f2f would allow for better exchange of ideas.) Maybe a meet-up at a local coffee haus?

Hope P&P are behaving themselves.

~EdT.
Anonymous said…
I just a blurb here and linked to your post. Give a shout when you're ready to move to NC! http://www.dirtandnoise.com/2008/09/hurricanes-toxic-aftermath.html
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