Polluting Planet Earth
Back in 2017, the tropical Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, TX with so much rain that it flooded one of the Superfund sites, an area designated by the Environmental Protection Agency that requires action to remove health/environmental hazards. The flood caused many pollutants and contaminants, such as dioxins, to be released from a damaged leakage-preventing cap. Although the dioxin molecules are not very soluble in water, much of the sediment containing dioxins and other pollutants were transported via the transported water. Much of the concern from health and environment officials is that the pollutants cause health issues to humans affecting the reproductive and immune systems – and will surely have other biological effects to nearby vegetation or wildlife.
What are Dioxin Molecules?
Dioxins are molecules, as seen in the image above, that vary in levels of toxicity depending on the amount and positioning of chlorine atoms attached to the two outer rings. Most dioxins are considered to be carcinogenic and acutely toxic, meaning that a single to a few exposure(s) could have an adverse effect on someone’s health. They can come from a variety of sources (as seen above in the image) such as being released from waste/PVC/plastic incineration, paper/steel/pesticide processing, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, or thermal power generation plant/automobile emissions.
Incredibly, measurements of soil near the flooded Houston Superfund site recorded levels of dioxins around 70,000 ng/kg while the recommended levels should remain near 30 ng/kg. On top of the high concentrations, many dioxins are hard to remove from the site, thus, the contamination might be there to stay for a while.
Just in California alone, there are 98 Superfund sites in California. Each of these sites are potential areas for future contamination due to a variety of climate-related events such as earthquakes, flooding, wildfires, etc. While such contamination might not be outwardly visible, it remains important to stay up-to-date with environmental news especially when choosing a location to live. For those that have already set roots in the areas affected by the Superfund flood, priorities might address finding ways to reduce expose and contamination.