Climate-driven disasters may stir up toxins

Disasters such as floods and fires, intensified by climate change in recent years, may be making people in the U.S. sick.

These sorts of disasters can dislodge chemicals from the ground, from homes, and from industrial waste sites, according to experts quoted in a July 15, 2019 New York Times article. For instance, recent research found elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which may cause cancer, in both soil and in people in one Puerto Rican town after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Other research has looked at the spread of contaminants like sewage, asbestos, and heavy metals in Houston after Hurricane Harvey and in Northern California after massive wildfires.

Gina McCarthy, director of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), told the Times that toxic substances displaced during disasters “are much more long-lasting and ubiquitous than I think people realize. And we clearly haven’t caught up in terms of our laws and regulations, and the process of disaster response.”

Read the New York Times article: ‘Toxic Stew’ Stirred Up by Disasters Poses Long-Term Danger, New Findings Show