Tropical Depression Imelda, which dumped as much as 43 inches of rain in some ares of Jefferson County, contributed to the release of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic air pollutants from area chemical plants and refineries, state records show.
About a dozen facilities in counties affected by the storm reported unauthorized releases from Wednesday through Friday, triggered by electrical outages, the failure of floating roof tanks and equipment malfunctions caused by flooding. Together, these companies reported releasing nearly 100,000 pounds of toxins, including cancer-causing 1,3 butadiene, benzene and ethylene oxide. Most releases were in Jefferson and Harris counties.
While exposure to these chemicals can be harmful, many factors including wind direction and the duration of the release influence whether such incidents affect human health. So far, the state’s environmental agency said it has not seen any air emissions of concern.
Environmentalists, however, objected when Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday suspended dozens of environmental rules related to air pollution, wastewater and fuel standards for vehicles, just as his office did for seven months after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requested the suspensions, saying the rules “prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the severe weather and flooding event.” The suspension applies to the counties declared a state of disaster.
Environmentalists said Abbott’s move was overly broad and “ill-conceived.”