Climate change’s association with increasingly intense and damaging hurricanes has rightly been the subject of much recent discussion.
But one serious consequence of the devastating storms has received insufficient attention. When hurricanes strike chemical manufacturing and storage facilities or “Superfund” sites, they often result in the release of toxic substances into the environment, harming nearby residents and their property. The 2017 hurricane season provided a stark case in point when Hurricane Harvey stalled over a refinery and chemical “alley” near Houston, Texas. Corporate facilities housing vast amounts of hazardous substances were caught unprepared for the high winds and floodwaters, and huge amounts of chemicals were discharged to the surrounding air, soil and water causing multiple injuries to first responders and residents. [Disclosure: Williams Cedar is one of several firms representing hundreds of Crosby, Texas residents in a lawsuit alleging that a chemical manufacturing plant stored dangerous substances inappropriately, and that its response to Harvey, a series of “controlled explosions” of chemical stores, lead to widespread pollution].
In 2018, as Hurricane Florence turned toward the Carolinas and Virginia, the EPA warned that as many as 40 sites in the three states, including oil facilities and plants handling “extremely hazardous substances” could be affected by the powerful storm. See 9/13/18 issue of The New Republic [online edition].
These “new” environmental concerns should make citizens even more aware of the many interconnected ways in which we are vulnerable to harm from pollution sources in close proximity to our homes. When severe storms threaten, citizens should take all available measures to protect themselves and their families, including obeying all evacuation orders and other directives from public officials. They should monitor and update their insurance in order to maximize coverage, and provide their carriers with prompt notice of any storm-related damage, and they should make a careful record of any such damage, including photographs. If the harm they suffer is made worse by the negligent conduct of corporate landowners, refineries and chemical facilities, they should consult with experienced environmental lawyers regarding potential remedies.