Houston facilities
(Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard / PA2 James Dillard)

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey soaked Houston with record-setting downpours. At the nearby Arkema chemical plant, flooding knocked out the power and disabled refrigeration systems that were cooling hazardous chemicals.

The chemicals decomposed and combusted, and the trailers where they were stored caught fire. More than 200 nearby residents were evacuated for an entire week.

Susan Anenberg is with George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. She says as climate change causes extreme weather to grow more common, similar incidents become more likely.

“This is a really understudied problem that is growing – and potentially disastrous in the future,” she says.

In recent research, Anenberg identified almost 900 highly hazardous chemical facilities within 50 miles of the Gulf Coast – a region likely to see more dangerous hurricanes. She found that more than 4 million people live close enough to one of those facilities to potentially need evacuation during a disaster.

She says stronger regulations can help reduce the risk of dangerous incidents.

“With proper planning and infrastructure and management,” she says, “they are preventable.”

embed code image

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Weather Extremes