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Cleaning Up After The Hurricane, Where Does All the Debris Go?

April 15, 2019 3 min read

Hands up who loves garbage!? Unless you’re a critter, such as a rat or a seagull, you probably didn’t raise your hand to that question, right? Whelp, odds are that no one who is dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Harvey and Irma raised their hands either. Mountains of debris (often toxic) are currently lingering in the wake of the storm.

Houston officials have announced that it will cost nearly $200 million to dispose of the wreckage caused by the storm and at least 100,000 homes have been critically damaged. Plaster, drywall, oil, electronics, wood… all spent time underwater and will be chucked into unlined landfills, which will most certainly contaminate the groundwater. Drywall on its own decomposes into sulfide gas, which is a safety hazard, explosive, and highly flammable.

What’s Happening in Texas

Texas officials are doing their best to oversee the operation of landfills, but “to err is human” is a concern. Although there is hope that everyone is doing what is right throughout this cleanup process, there is always a margin for those who are… well… lacking the “I give a shiz” gene. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, environmental officials in Louisiana were so overwhelmed with the piles of debris that they opened a new landfill next to a low-income Vietnamese community in Versailles. Residents protested, but garbage dumping continued regardless. Toxic waste, such as oil, medical waste, and electronics seeped their poison into the ground and had a concerning effect on the water within the area. Without a synthetic liner, this can become an issue in Houston as well. The toxic runoff in Texas may potentially pose a risk to the local residents. Professor Adam Babich of environmental law at Tulane University says “What we saw during Hurricane Katrina was a lot of waivers issued by EPA and activity that was technically illegal.” These waivers are a legal way to allow state agencies to temporarily ignore/violate federal law without consequences by the EPA.

What’s Happening in Florida

Millions of people were affected by the storm and state-emergency officials are still working to restore power and other basic services. So far, Florida has not asked for statewide waivers to allow solid waste to be dumped outside of permits, but they will be considered on a case by case basis. There is a web portal that allows residents to report excessive debris. One report, from Marianna Huntley of Ormond Beach, said: “wrecked boat sitting upside down next to my dock leaking oil and fluids into the river.” These are the types of reports that response teams are doing everything they can to remedy. The EPA office has yet to grant waivers to either Texas or Florida on dumping rules and is still working on incorporating climate change into disaster preparedness.

How to Prepare for the Hurricane Aftermath

With the possibility of contaminated food and water from toxic dumping, there are ways to make sure that you and your family have a safe source of both. Bottled water is a hot commodity, so in the event that it is unavailable, be sure to boil your water to make it is safe for consumption, or have your own water storage on hand. Many local farms and orchards in Texas and Florida, which are responsible for supplying fresh food to residents, have experienced great amounts of damage. This puts a strain on the food supply in many areas. It is events like this where food storage really shines. You may not be able to buy a freshly picked apple, but if you plan accordingly, you can have healthy and delicious meals ready in no time. Freeze-dried meals have a long shelf life and are extremely tasty. They are not only a convenient choice in the event of a damaging storm, they are delicious anytime and easy to make in any situation.