Published September 19, 2017
At least 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded and "experiencing possible damage" as a result of Hurricane Harvey, federal environmental officials confirmed Saturday after conducting an initial assessment of the sites.
The assessment, determined through aerial imagery, raised concerns about potential health risks as floodwaters carried the pollutants over a wider area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told "Fox News Sunday" the EPA is going to "get on top" of the contamination threat.
"The EPA is monitoring that. The EPA is going to get on top of that," Abbott said. "We are working with the EPA to make sure that we contain any of these chemicals harming anybody in the greater Houston area or any other place."
The findings came shortly after the Associated Press reported that Harvey flooded at least seven of the highly toxic waste sites in and around Houston. The report stated EPA officials have not physically visited the Superfund sites in the Houston area, saying in a statement that they have “not been accessible by response personnel."
However, the EPA released a statement on Sunday slamming the "misleading" AP report. The agency said it has conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites that indicated 28 of them damaged and 13 of them experiencing flooding. It also noted the sites were secured before the hurricane hit -- information that it said AP had left out.
"Administrator Pruitt already visited Southeast Texas and is in constant contact with local, state and county officials. And EPA, has a team of experts imbedded with other local, state and federal authorities, on the ground responding to Harvey -- none of which Biesecker included in his story," the agency said.
At a news conference Saturday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called on the EPA to come "in town to address the situation." He said he wasn’t aware of the flooding at the Superfund sites in time to inform President Donald Trump of the situation during the president's recent visit to the region.
Reporters from the Associated Press were able to survey seven Superfund locations, including one that was accessible only by boat. They found the sites to "either be underwater or showing signs they were inundated before floodwaters receded.”
The EPA hasn’t explained why the agency’s personnel haven't been able to tour the sites, the AP reported.
The U.S. petrochemical industry is in the heart of the Houston metro area, where more than a dozen Superfund sites reside that have been labeled by the EPA as some of “America’s most intensely contaminated places,” the AP reported.
San Jacinto River Waste Pits, which contains toxins linked to birth defects and cancer in the soil, is among the Superfund sites that were completely flooded.
Cleaning up Superfund sites is reportedly a top priority for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.