The New York Times conducts water quality report

Even though Hurricane Harvey has passed and the rain has stopped, for the residents of Houston, Texas and the surrounding areas, the danger is still very much present.

For most floods, like the one in the heavily polluted and industrial city of Houston, the remaining groundwater can still potentially be hazardous. This water will more than likely include bacteria, toxic chemicals from waste sites and factories, and even deadly alligators and snakes.

The New York Times recently conducted an analysis of water from various Houston neighborhoods, which revealed worrying results. Part of the reason for The New York Times conducting this analysis is because neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) were willing to share with the public any of their information or findings of the true nature of the Houston water supply. The Houston Health Department was conducting an analysis of the floodwaters but was not ready to share their findings with the public.

In order to conduct this study, The New York Times worked with the following individuals, with an agreement that any findings would be shared with the public:

  • Winifred Hamilton, director of the Environmental Health Service at the Baylor College of Medicine
  • Jesse Crain III, environmental assessor for the Environmental Health Service at the Baylor College of Medicine
  • Lauren Stadler, a researcher from Rice University
  • Qilin Li, a researcher from Rice University
  • Loren Raun, from the City of Houston
  • Lisa Montemayor, from the City of Houston

A&B Labs also volunteered to analyze the findings quickly and thoroughly.

The study was conducted as follows:

  • The Health and Science expert at The New York Times gave the team of reporters a sizeable budget because it soon became clear that no other study similar to this was being undertaken. They knew there was very real fear for the residents of Houston, many of whom were beginning to return home for the cleanup effort.
  • While wearing goggles, waders, masks, and gloves, members of the team first visited the Channelview neighborhood, which is located near the San Jacinto River.  Nearby residents had reported several leaks from the nearby Superfund site.
  • Unbeknownst to the reporters and scientists on the scene, several wastewater treatment plans had flooded and released raw sewage. The Fire Department had yet to announce this information. The raw sewage traveled down to the Buffalo Bayou.  Tests later showed that, along its way through the bayou, the sewage had picked up lead, arsenic, chromium, as well as other very harmful chemicals.
  • They discovered that in addition, outside of the Clayton Homes public housing projects, piles of debris had accumulated. The debris included mattresses, family photos, rugs, and stuffed animals all  on top of an upside-down refrigerator.  There was a terrible smell inside the building.
  • The level of E. coli, an indication of fecal contamination from the sewage, was 135 times higher than what is generally considered to be safe.
  • Raised levels of lead and other hazardous materials were also present, as well as liquid mercury heads were spread all over the floor.

This study was crucial for Houstonians and residents of surrounding areas because, without it, they might have been in the dark as to the quality of their own water as they waited for federal and local investigations.


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