hurricanes

Port Arthur Texas – Climate Justice Hits Home

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By Hilton Kelley

Texas is considered the “Energy State.” In 2013 it was the leading crude oil-producing state in the nation; its 27 refineries exceeding even the production levels of off-shore production. That year Texas was also the leading natural gas producer in the country. Port Arthur, Texas, my home, sits on the Louisiana-Texas border on the Gulf Coast, right in the heart of this Texas energy hub. Port Arthur also is home to four major oil refineries, four chemical plants, one petroleum coke plant, and an international chemical waste incineration facility.

Many residents of Port Arthur, particularly those in the low income community of color, in the city’s Historic west side, have been and continue to be disproportionately negatively impacted by carbon emissions, volatile organic compounds, and known carcinogens from these facilities. Based on a local door-to-door community survey, one out of every five households here has someone who suffers from chronic respiratory illnesses, many of whom are children. According data compiled by the Texas Cancer Registry, the county’s cancer incidence rate is 25% higher than the state average. We have a large number of people in our community who have been diagnosed with cancer and liver and kidney disease. A separate study by the University of Texas Medical Branch found that the residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people who live 100 miles away to suffer from heart and respiratory problems, nervous and skin disorders, and other illnesses. The health problems endured by my friend Paula and her family are examples of the devastating impacts pollution is having in my community.

Smoke rises from Deepwater Horizon

The question of how much pollution one community can bear takes on a whole new meaning when talking about climate change. The ferocity of recent hurricanes has been unexpected, bringing in storm surges that reached to the top of the 100-year levee. Due to rising sea levels, a portion of Highway 87 leading to Galveston along the Gulf Coast has not been open for years because large sections have been washed out. Vast amounts of coastal marshlands and wetlands, which serve as natural sponges that trap and slowly release storm waters, are contaminated largely due to oil spills, big ones like the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, as well as smaller ones too. There is a massive sinkhole in the Louisiana wetlands which is possibly leaking chemical waste from a very large underground injection well.

Hurricane Ike over the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Ike over the Gulf of Mexico

The emergence of serious storms and other significant weather changes only exacerbates the problems we are dealing with. Like the Murphy Oil flooding following Hurricane Katrina, storm surges will wash chemicals from their confinement into our neighborhoods. It’s not just the major storms that wreak environmental havoc on coastal areas like ours that are home to oil and gas production facilities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike (a Category 2 storm) caused hundreds of releases of oil, gasoline, and dozens of other substances into our air and water, facilities were damaged causing explosions and other catastrophes that only compound the suffering of my friends, neighbors and future generations.

The time to deal with climate change and related issues like chemical safety, chemical reduction, and community resiliency is now — people are dying because of over-exposure to dangerous substances. Human and wildlife habitats are being lost. Just as important, we are losing the culture and way of life of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. We must do more to get local, regional, and State governments involved in the fight to reduce and combat climate change. Time is of the essence.

This must happen! Not next year, not next month, but right now.

About the author: Hilton Kelley is the Executive Director and Founder of Community In-power and Development Association Inc. In 2011, he received the prestigious Goldman Prize for his efforts on environmental justice.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Resiliency In The Face Of Stronger Storms

By Josephine Chu

We all remember Superstorm Sandy, especially those of us who live along the East Coast. My parents, who reside on Long Island, were very lucky and did not have any major damage to their home. They did, however, have to live without electricity for two weeks.

Seeing the impact on my parents during this time made me realize just how much we depend on electricity to run the daily tasks in our lives. My parents could cook at home on our gas stove, but without a working refrigerator, they couldn’t store perishables. Long lines at the gas stations meant that even the simple task of driving to buy supplies became difficult. Some of my friends didn’t have running water since there was no electricity to operate the water pumps. These stories made me wonder: will we be prepared if another Sandy hits? Are more Sandys in our future?
 
While there is uncertainty about the impact of climate change on the frequency of hurricanes, scientists have evidence documenting how climate change will intensify storms. According to the US Global Change Research Program, it is very likely that increased levels of greenhouse gases have contributed to an increase in sea surface temperatures. The intensity of North Atlantic tropical storm activity for most of the mid- to late 20th century has increased, too (see the orange “Power Dissipation Index” line in the figure above). This trend is associated closely with variations in sea surface temperature (see the dashed purple line). As sea surface temperatures are projected to continue increasing in a warming climate, we can expect that warm waters will fuel more intense storms.

Government agencies, including EPA, are working together to implement the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, with the goal of accounting for the impacts of more intense storms. Cities are also taking action; in June 2013, New York City mayor Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion plan of flood barriers and green infrastructure to build a more resilient city.

Check out EPA’s page on adaptation efforts for more information about how we can work together to build climate-resilient communities. With better adaptation efforts, hopefully, my family and other communities can be better prepared for the next storm.

About the author: Josephine Chu is a fellow with the communications team of the Climate Change Division in the Office of Air and Radiation. She recently earned her master’s in Global Environmental Politics at American University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Be Ready for Hurricanes and Extreme Weather

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By Lina Younes

We are into the second month of Hurricane Season 2013. So far, we have been fortunate that no hurricanes have unleashed their fury on U.S. soil. Nonetheless, that does not mean that we have been spared from extreme weather activity across the country. In fact, this summer we’ve seen weather extremes throughout the continental United States. While the eastern states have experienced torrential rains and an unusually rainy summer, the western states have been suffering extremely high temperatures and severe droughts.

As President Obama stated in his recent speech on climate change,  scientific data points to extreme weather events and anomalies  in weather patterns over the past decade. So, what can we do to be ready for hurricanes and other extreme weather events this season?

Well, NOAA now has a Weather-Ready Nation website where you can receive updated information using technology and social media. The best thing is to prepare for hurricanes or storms way in advance by developing your own personal plan and kit  to protect yourself and your family. By making sure you have necessary items for your kit in advance, you will also avoid the mad rush at your local supermarket or hardware store on the eve of the hurricane.

Here are some suggestions:

  • In developing your emergency supplies kit, store up on canned food, bottled water, and other supplies like batteries.
  • Have extra charged batteries for your cell phone. Even consider buying a solar-powered cell phone battery.
  • Have a couple of flashlights.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • Have books, games, activities for children.
  • Have a battery-powered portable radio.
  • Have a manual can opener.
  • Around the house, clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Learn about hurricane evacuation routes in your area.
  • Have emergency phone numbers on hand to report power outages with your local utility company.
  • Here’s some useful information in the event that you need emergency disinfection of drinking water in your community after a hurricane or flooding.

Hopefully, you won’t actually use your emergency kit this summer, but it pays off to be ready at all times for whatever Mother Nature sends your way.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bathtub Preparedness Planning

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By Michael Dexter

Growing up in Florida the threat of extreme weather brought a rush of last minute preparations, and I clearly remember the urgency involved with preparing for such events. We would clear portions of the house likely to flood, park the car on high ground, and ready an inflatable dinghy. Like many people, we had stocks of food and bottled water. However, we also filled up the bathtub with water in case service was out for awhile. I guess you could say the bathtub became our prime–make that our only–backup water supply plan.

If we lost water pressure, we used a gallon of water from the tub for flushing. If directed by our health department, we boiled water to drink. When we needed to wash, we scooped another cup out of the tub. While I understood the need for personal preparedness, I never thought about how the broader community prepared for water service interruptions, or what could have happened if that interruption lasted for more than a day or two.

Today, EPA works with communities and water utilities across the country to help them prepare for extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool helps communities and utilities understand and plan for the widespread impacts that often accompany extreme weather events. The tool helps critical community services like healthcare facilities, energy producers, and firefighters assess and increase their own preparedness level by providing tools and resources to gauge their current level of preparedness.

Last May, EPA worked with St. Clair County, Michigan on a roundtable exercise using the tool. The meeting promoted a better awareness of interdependencies between water and other community services, fostered a greater understanding of the county’s water infrastructure, discussed potential community impacts of a water service interruption during an extreme weather event, and identified actions and resources needed to respond to, and recover from, a water emergency. Drills like this exercise are a tremendous opportunity for entities like St. Clair County to think strategically about how to respond to an emergency situation that could affect thousands of its residents.

Like your community or water utility, you can prepare for the impacts of an extreme weather event. Just go to ready.gov

About the author: Michael Dexter is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant with EPA’s Water Security Division. He lived in Southwest Florida for over two decades and experienced Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Mitch among others. He currently resides in Washington, DC and works on the Community-Based Water Resiliency effort to help utilities, and the communities they serve, increase all hazard water preparedness.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Better Safe Than Sorry

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By Lina Younes

Well, it’s that time of year. Hurricane Season 2013 is upon us. NOAA is predicting an active hurricane season for the Atlantic/Caribbean area. Even inland areas can suffer the effects of tropical storms such as strong winds, torrential rains, flooding, and even tornadoes after a hurricane has made landfall. While the most active month for hurricanes  in our area seems to be August, it is not unusual to see tropical storms towards the later part of the season ending December 1st.

So what should you do to get ready today?  Well, first of all, develop your own emergency kit and hurricane preparedness plan for you and your family. Here are some suggestions.

  •  In developing your emergency supplies kit, store up on canned food, bottled water, and other supplies like batteries.
  •  Place matches in a waterproof container.
  • Stock up on paper cups, plates, plastic utensils.
  •  Remember to stock up on pet food for your pets.
  • Have important family documents on hand in a portable waterproof container.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • Have books, games, activities for children.
  • Have a battery-powered portable radio.
  • Connect to NOAA’s Weather Radio . Visit this link for information on the frequencies and public service announcements.
  • Charge your cell phones in advance and have an extra phone battery on hand.
  • Have a manual can opener.
  • Around the house, clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Learn about hurricane evacuation routes in your area.
  • Using technology, you can sign up to get text messages from FEMA with updated information about the storm
  • Have emergency phone numbers on hand to report power outages with your local utility company.
  • Don’t forget to plan ahead to keep ensure your pets’ safety as well. They also need a pet disaster supply kit. You may need to take them to a local pet shelter in the event that you are evacuated.

Furthermore, in the event of a power outage in your area, never use a generator inside an enclosed area.  Generators are sources of carbon monoxide which may be lethal in higher concentrations.

By preparing in advance of inclement weather, you’ll be able to stock up on the necessary supplies while avoiding the madhouse at your local grocery story on the eve of the storm. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us? We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting Off To A Good Start

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By Lina Younes

As many of us are still in the spirit of getting off to a good start in the New Year, I believe it is timely to discuss emergency planning at home so that we can be ready for whatever nature might send our way this year.

As we have often stated during the hurricane season and now during the winter months, it’s important to prepare today in order to be safer tomorrow.  I’m sure that many of you have witnessed how there seems to be panic shopping at local supermarkets and hardware stores whenever there are reports of snow storms or hurricanes. So why not stock up on the basic necessities that you will need in the event of an emergency? How can you get ready?

  • Stock up on batteries and flashlights when they are on sale.
  • Have a battery powered radio at hand.
  • Have bottled water at hand in case of an emergency.
  • Stock up on canned goods or non-perishable food.
  • If you have infants and young children, stock up on baby formula, diapers, baby wipes, etc.
  • Don’t forget your pets.  Identify where you can shelter your pets in the event that you may have to evacuate.
  • Have a list of your prescriptions and emergency papers on hand in a safe place in the event that you may need to evacuate.
  • When developing your family plan, make sure you also develop a contingency plan for your elderly relatives or those with limited mobility in the event of an emergency.
  • Something that I learned last summer all to well, fill your tank with gas and have some cash on hand before a major storm because it may be difficult to get these services after a storm or black out.
  • Get the emergency numbers for your local utilities and basic services.
  • Sign up to receive instant messages with updated news and emergency information.
  • In the event of a power outage, NEVER USE A GENERATOR INSIDE. Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning from generator exhaust.

Remember, basic planning will keep you and your loved ones safe. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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You Still Have Time To Get Ready

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By Lina Younes

With NOAA’s revised hurricane season outlook for 2012 forecasting “above-normal” tropical storm activity for this year, I think it is timely to take several steps to get yourself and your family prepared before any hurricanes reach our shores. While the official hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin begins on June 1st, September has proven to be the most active month for hurricane activity in the U.S. statistically speaking. So, what can you do to get ready?

A common sense approach to hurricane preparedness or any type of emergency is ideal. Develop your own emergency supplies kit. What should this kit have?

  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Bottled water
  • Canned food
  • Manual can opener
  • Emergency phone numbers for your local utility companies and other basic services
  • First aid kit

Other tips for emergency preparedness:

  • If you take any medications regularly, have those prescriptions and other medical necessities on hand.
  • Store important family documents in a portable waterproof container. Keep that container on hand in case of an emergency evacuation.
  • Learn about hurricane evacuation routes in your area.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • Fill your car up with gas before the storm hits.

Don’t forget to get your home ready in anticipation of a storm.

  • Remove clutter around the house that can easily become storm debris once the hurricane hits.
  • Clean up the rain gutters and downspouts well in advance.
  • If you have any leaks in your home, repair them before the storm hits. They will only become worse with torrential rains and hurricane winds.

Furthermore, use technology to your advantage.  Now is a good time to sign up for text messages from FEMA to get regular updates via your mobile phone and social media platforms.  And, as we’ve mentioned before, preparation will help you to be ready for the unexpected in the event of a storm or any other environmental emergency.

Stay safe!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Ready Today, Safer Tomorrow

By Lina Younes

The 2012 Hurricane Season will officially begin on June 1st. However, two named tropical storms on the list have made their early appearance in May weeks before the official season opening. Even though NOAA is predicting a near-normal 2012 hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea area, it is never too early to get ready before a storm approaches our shores. Even if you do not reside along coastal areas, you could feel the wrath of a hurricane inland from strong winds, torrential rains, flooding, subsequent landslides or debris flow.

So, what should you do as soon as possible? Develop your own emergency kit and hurricane preparedness plan for you and your family. Here are some of the steps you should take in advance to prepare for this event and stay safe.

  • In developing your emergency supplies kit, store up on canned food, bottled water, and other supplies like batteries.
  • Place matches in a waterproof container
  • Stock up on paper cups, plates, plastic utensils
  • Remember to stock up on pet food for your pets
  • Have important family documents on hand in a portable waterproof container
  • Have cash on hand
  • Have books, games, activities for children
  • Have a battery-powered portable radio
  • Have a manual can opener
  • Around the house, clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts
  • Learn about hurricane evacuation routes in your area
  • Using technology, you can sign up to get text messages from FEMA with updated information about the storm
  • Have emergency phone numbers on hand to report power outages with your local utility company or get information on local shelters

After the hurricane is long gone, you might still have to deal with the storm aftermath.  There are certain tips that should help you to stay safe and recover faster after the storm.

  • Do not use a generator inside your home, garage or other enclosed areas. Carbon monoxide in generator exhaust can easily build up with lethal consequences.
  • If your drinking water is not safe, boil for one minute to kill water-borne diseases.
  • Mold growth may be a problem after flooding, get more information on flood cleanup to avoid indoor air quality problems.

Hope you find these tips useful. Any personal suggestions on preparing for a storm?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Based Water Resiliency

by Nushat Thomas

I recently participated in a preparedness exercise at a hospital, involving a hurricane scenario that included surgery, pharmacy, food service, safety, maintenance and environmental health services. The facilitator informed the exercise participants that a storm had interrupted water services. He then turned to each group and asked how they would respond. I was concerned to hear that many groups were planning to continue patient care, meal service and instrument sterilization; and none of their plans included a backup water supply. After some time, I asked if they knew who their water utility provider was and if there was a backup water supply to support their plans – the answer was a resounding no.

My experience in this exercise mirrored many others I’ve had; many stakeholder groups outside of the water utility community are ill-prepared to continue essential services during an interruption in water services. The reality is that there are over 600 water main breaks a day in this country causing water service interruptions, not to mention impacts from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather events. In addition, service interruptions can be caused by human error, malfunctioning equipment, and vandalism or other crimes. Being prepared for interruptions in drinking water and wastewater service begins with knowing your local water utility. Do you know who your provider is for both drinking water and wastewater services? If you participate in emergency preparedness training in your community, have you ever considered including drinking water and wastewater service providers so you can learn more about their emergency operations and restoration process? Even if your role in the community or organization does not include exercise participation, this information is valuable and will assist in building your resiliency to water service interruptions.

The Community-Based Water Resiliency initiative assists communities in understanding the importance of including water utilities in emergency preparedness efforts. The Community-Based Water Resiliency (CBWR) electronic tool features a self-assessment for community members to assess their current preparedness and learn more about free tools and resources for improvement. You can help enhance water resiliency in your community by using the tool, which includes access to over 400 free resources on water preparedness. You can also help spread the word about these great, free resources by posting the new CBWR widget on your organization or personal website or blog, as well as by sharing through electronic newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

About the author: Nushat Thomas joined EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water in 2009, as an Environmental Protection Specialist in the Water Security Division. She is the project lead for Community-Based Water Resiliency, an initiative to increase awareness of water interdependencies, and enhance water resiliency, at the community level. She is also an Environmental Science Engineering Officer in the DC Army National Guard and worked closely with the water utilities at Fort Bragg to reduce potential impacts of water loss while on active duty.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hurricane Season: Better Get Ready

Have you ever listened to the weather report and wished that the weatherman missed the mark? Well, after learning that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast projects a “busy Atlantic hurricane season” this year, we all hope these predictions don’t materialize. Given the situation of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental repercussions of a major hurricane in that area could even be more devastating. Since we don’t have ways to control weather conditions, the best thing we can do with this forecast is to get ready before tropical storms approach our shores.

We are all aware of the madness at local supermarkets and hardware stores on the eve of a storm. Since we can anticipate the possibility of power outages during or right after a hurricane, why not make sure we have flashlights and batteries on hand well in advance of a hurricane? A battery-operated radio is another useful item to monitor storm developments. I remember that during one of the snowstorms this year, my small battery-operated radio was my lifeline to the outside world when my family and I were stuck home without electricity for 15 hours!

Speaking about electrical outages, never use a generator inside your home or an enclosed space like a basement or garage. The engine exhaust generates carbon monoxide, a toxic deadly toxic gas. Make sure these portable generators are used safely.

As a result of a hurricane or natural emergency, drinking water supplies may be contaminated. You can prepare by having bottled water at hand. Listen to local media reports during and after the storm for information on water safety.

While you are planning how to protect your family and home during a hurricane, don’t forget about your pets. If you live along the coastline or in an area prone to floods, there is the potential you might have to evacuate with short notice. Plan ahead where you can take your pet in such an emergency. And lastly, don’t forget about important papers like passports and insurance documents. It’s always best to prepare for the worse case scenario to be safe before the hurricane winds and rain come your way.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force.  Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.