Friday, September 22, 2017

Guest Post: Hurricane Harvey Shows the Desperate Need for More Renewable Energy

[Clean Air Watch is pleased to present this timely guest post by Emily Folk]

Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, is home to numerous oil refineries, chemical plants and legacy superfund sites. The waste chemicals from these facilities leeched into the nearly nine trillion gallons of water Hurricane Harvey dumped on the area last month. Residents are now faced with additional water pollution in the wake of this tragic category 4 storm. The impact of this and future crises can be reduced if the United States converts to more renewable energy sources. 
Industrial Pollution
Over 500 refineries, chemical plants and industrial sites line the Houston ship channel. Studies show residents living near this area have increased rates of cancer diagnoses. The pollution generated by these facilities has also been linked to increased rates of childhood leukemia. This is under normal weather conditions, not considering the impact of a massive storm.    
Houston is also home to 41 superfund sites. During Hurricane Harvey, nearly 30 percent of the city, including 13 of those superfund sites, were under water. Several of these are known to contain creosote, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead and arsenic. Officials haven’t yet made an accurate measure of the extent of additional contamination that resulted from this flooding.  
Personal Wells
Flood waters can still have a negative impact long after they recede. Water pollutants can infiltrate through soil into the groundwater table, which can lead to contamination in private wells. Individual well owners, not the government, are responsible for ensuring the safety of their private water sources. 
Hundreds of residents in Houston rely on private wells for their drinking water. To survive the average person needs at least 2.5 quarts of water every day. Residents facing well contamination are at risk of either consuming carcinogens or paying for pricey, in-home treatment options.     
Marine and Wildlife
The Houston ship channel, along with many other streams and tributaries in the area, all drain to the Galveston Bay. Excess pollution carried by receding flood waters will eventually settle in Galveston Bay as well, negatively impacting marine and wildlife in the area. High levels of contamination in sea water can lead to dead zones where no marine life can survive.
Tourists and locals interested in eating seafood from Galveston Bay must also be wary. Fish and other creatures living in polluted waters end up storing excess chemicals in their fat cells over time. When people eat contaminated sea food, the contamination will store in their fat cells. Over time, this build-up of chemicals can lead to cancer or birth defects. 
Renewable Hope    
Renewable energy sources offer a solution for reducing the amount of water pollution from natural disasters and routine flooding. Unlike traditional oil and gas sources, renewables don’t require pipelines to transfer resources or underground storage tanks which may leak toxic chemicals into the environment.   
Energy generated from renewable sources is more eco-friendly than energy from traditional fossil fuels.  Before Hurricane Harvey, many Houston refineries voluntarily shut down. To do this, they needed to burn off excess chemicals which resulted in increased air pollution. 
Cleaner energy sources have the added benefit of providing power closer to the source, rather than relying on long distribution lines which can fail during storms and floods. Extra energy can be stored in batteries and potentially be accessed soon after, if not during a storm. 
Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effects on Houston are a reminder the United States needs to convert to cleaner, renewable energy sources to avoid further pollution. 

Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger, covering topics in conservation, sustainability and renewable energy. To see her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter!

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