EPA sends people, planes to gauge pollution from Texas storm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it has sent people and airplanes to assess pollution in areas hit by Tropical Storm Harvey, as concerns mount over leaks and spills from the Texas oil industry and Superfund sites.

Harvey slammed the state’s Gulf Coast on Friday as a powerful hurricane and has since dumped record rainfall in the Houston area. The region is home to scores of huge petrochemicals facilities along with dozens of heavily polluted Superfund sites, many of which have been flooded.

The EPA said it sent emergency management specialists and reconnaissance teams to the state and would inspect two high priority Superfund sites near Corpus Christi - close to where Harvey first made landfall - on Wednesday.

Superfund sites are land determined by the EPA to be contaminated with hazardous waste in need of cleanup because they pose a risk to human health or the environment.

The EPA has listed two oil waste disposal pits formerly owned by the Brine Service Company in Corpus Christi on the Superfund priorities list. The pits, 6.5 miles outside of downtown, contain drilling fluids and refinery wastes dating to the 1940s.

Many of the state’s other Superfund sites affected by the storm are still inaccessible due to high water. In Harris County, home to Houston, there are 15 Superfund sites.

Flooding from Harvey also has triggered a handful of spills and releases from petrochemical facilities in Texas, according to reports filed by companies with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality.

That includes more than 12,000 pounds of volatile organic compounds from Exxon Mobil’s massive Baytown refinery when rainwater sank a storage tank’s floating roof.

The EPA team will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, TCEQ, the Coast Guard and the Texas General Land Office in its work, according to the release.

“EPA continues to support TCEQ in contacting drinking water and waste water systems and will visit two systems based on information garnered,” it said.

“In addition, EPA’s aerial assessment aircraft will conduct aerial reconnaissance over the impacted area, as weather permits,” it said.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Bill Trott