At first, it was just another thing to worry about. Hurricane Harvey was headed straight toward the heart of America’s petrochemical industry, where dozens of refineries and chemical plants sit next to vulnerable communities. There were forecasts of biblical rainfall, which experts predicted could flood facilities and cause accidental toxic substance releases, or worse, explosions. If multiple plants shut down at once, there could be huge emissions of harmful air pollutants. And if too much rain fell on the region’s Superfund sites, they could overflow, threatening human health.
It’s been nearly a week since Harvey first made landfall in Texas, and all of these things have happened. In the most high-profile case, a flooded chemical plant east of Houston burst