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Hazards from Harvey

September 2017
Marc Moss, MD

Marc Moss, MD

To the many families and communities impacted by the flooding of Hurricane Harvey, you are in our thoughts. Thanks to the support of volunteers—medical or other wise—the road to recovery on the Gulf coast has been hopeful.

As patient advocates, we care about the health of severely ill patients who have lost access to their medications, as well as the patients with chronic conditions whose respiratory issues have been aggravated by the disaster. 

As clean air advocates, we raise concern and raise our voices for the explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

Located in a rural town of 25 miles east of Houston, multiple fires broke out at the facility in the early morning of Aug. 28. Authorities ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile radius. First responders, meanwhile, reported irritation in their airways and received hospital evaluations and treatment. 

In 2014, Arkema Group issued a risk management plan for the Environmental Protection Agency, calculating a worse case scenario with an impact radius of 23 miles. Spokespersons today, however, assure the public that any fumes that combusted last week were non-toxic and pose no long-term effects.

It is too soon to tell. Though, we’ve seen these effects before. We’ve treated the lungs of first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We’ve also treated those of veterans exposed to burn pits in the Iraq-Afghanistan militarization, post-9/11.

While injuries are impossible to measure at the onset, this makes them no more real. They are no less serious. Exposure to particulate matter from intense fires and explosions is dangerous. In some cases, such air pollution is life-threatening.

We can hope that the damage in the Houston area is far from a “worse-case scenario.” Yet, the damage to health and human life is considerable already. What more can be done to prevent further tragedy from disaster? As Houston residents prepare to return to their homes, we urge caution. The ATS will continue to monitor the situation and provide resources for those facing hazardous situations.

Last Reviewed: September 2017