As Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents discovered the same problem that Houston and South Florida faced after hurricanes Harvey and Irma: Receding floodwaters exposed environmental contamination.
Floodwaters in Texas and Florida were fouled with toxic chemicals and sewage.
After Harvey, pollutants from Superfund sites and chemical facilities in the Houston area mixed with floodwaters, leading Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) to warn residents to stay out of the water. The EPA confirmed that 13 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were "experiencing possible damage" due to the storm. The flooding caused explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Chemicals have washed up in neighborhoods, and poisonous globes of mercury have been found along the San Jacinto River, across from a hazardous waste site.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued guidance on the environmental hazards, including how to determine whether drinking water is safe and how to handle wastewater runoff. Some residents remain concerned, however, about industrial chemicals in the floodwaters still lingering in many parts of the Texas coast.
Abbott has said that a special session of the Legislature, which isn't scheduled to meet again until January 2019, won't be necessary to deal with Harvey recovery.
In South Florida, the problem has been sewage. The region's flat terrain requires wastewater pump stations to move sewage. When Irma struck the electrical grid, the pumps shut down, causing 6 million gallons of wastewater to spill into Miami's Biscayne Bay. In Fort Lauderdale, a one-minute power outage at the sewage plant allowed 86,000 gallons of treated wastewater to spill into the Intracoastal Waterway. Orlando's wastewater system flowed backward, leading to 10.000 gallons seeping out of manhole covers.
In the town of Miramar, the site of the largest raw sewage mess, 300,000 gallons of wastewater streamed from a broken pipe for more than a day, soaking front yards, seeping into the canal and requiring a large cleanup. Residents were concerned about well water being contaminated.
"There's still fecal matter that seems to be floating," one resident noted.
The Florida Department of Health cautioned residents to avoid areas affected by sewage and make certain septic systems were functioning.
Before the storm, the EPA estimated that necessary upgrades to Florida's wastewater systems would cost the state...