Flooded toxic dumps pose threat to Texas communities hit by Harvey
'I'm kind of concerned ... we have a water well, we use it for the animals, we bathe with it'
For 10 years, Elizabeth Victorio has lived in a small community on the outskirts of Crosby, about 45 kilometres northeast of Houston. All that time, she had no idea she was living between two former toxic waste dumps — both of which were flooded by tropical storm Harvey.
"I'm kind of concerned a little bit," said the 18-year-old. "We have a water well, we use it for the animals, we bathe with it."
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Victorio, her mother and her sisters live alongside several other families in a collection of recreational vehicles and makeshift shelters.
Many people only speak Spanish. They keep goats, chickens and even horses.
Almost everything was destroyed in the storm. A truck and a car were caught in a large sinkhole full of brown, murky water.
One of the trailers Victorio shared with her mother and sisters washed right across the street, collapsing on its side.
"There's nothing left," she said. "The water took everything."
Dozens of Superfund sites across Texas
The community is bordered by Sikes Disposal Pits, an illegal dumping ground for hazardous waste in the 1960s, and French Ltd., another disposal site.
Both are what's known as Superfund sites: polluted and hazardous places the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with cleaning up.
There are dozens of similar sites in Texas, 13 of them flooded so badly that inspectors were unable to immediately reach them — although they did do aerial surveillance.
After The Associated Press reported on the flooded sites, the agency put out an especially defensive statement with strong language for a government organization.
It said the reporter "had the audacity to imply that agencies aren't being responsive to the divesting effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and policizes that hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area."
EPA Response To The AP's Misleading Story <a href="https://t.co/O2qSkqCfqm">https://t.co/O2qSkqCfqm</a>—@EPA
The role of the EPA is politically divisive. It's now headed by Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma's attorney general fought against the agency's regulations.
U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed budget would see funding for Superfund sites slashed by 30 per cent, although it's unlikely Congress would agree to it.
Some not worried about pollution
On Sunday, when a CBC crew approached another Superfund site in Highlands, Texas, the force of the water had blown off the locks, leaving the gate open.
Chuck Ganz owns the property next door. He called the EPA to tell them the gate needs to be fixed.
"I'd like to keep everyone out, but because they're not supposed to be out on it." he said.
Ganz isn't worried about pollution. He says he has seen regular monitoring reports from the EPA, and everything looks safe. He doesn't think the flood will change that.
Besides, he says: "We got a couple of alligators around here — if it's good enough for them, I guess it's good enough for us."
And for some Texans, that's safety enough.