What Happens After a Hurricane

2017’s Hurricane Harvey affected Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States.  Harvey was the wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history, bringing almost 52 inches (1.3 meters) of rain to parts of Texas.

What impact does such massive rain and flooding have on the environment?

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina affected 90,000 square miles of the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A month after Katrina, scientists from the University of Missouri and U.S. Geological Survey studied sediment samples from communities affected by the flooding.  Their equipment included an Agilent GC, MSD, column and Chemstation software.

  • A significant number of sediment samples had concentrations of arsenic and lead that exceeded drinking water standards. (Concentrations of other metals – including cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury and vanadium – were much lower.)
  • Among gasoline constituents, only benzene was observed above the limit of detection.
  • Among 18 analyzed pesticides, most were in the non-detectable range. All trace amounts were well below regulatory guidelines.

Scientists from Louisiana State University studied floodwater samples.  Their equipment included an Agilent GC-MS using EPA method 624.

  • Dissolved oxygen was depleted, while chemical oxygen was elevated.
  • Fecal bacteria were elevated, but typical of stormwater runoff in the region.
  • Lead and arsenic exceeded drinking water standards, but again were typical of stormwater.
  • Overall, the danger was not from elevated concentrations of toxic pollutants, but from people’s increased exposure to them.

In a separate study, scientists from LSU analyzed sediment samples from homes that were flooded by Katrina.  Their equipment included an Agilent GC-MS using EPA method 8270C.

  • Indoor samples of soils and sediments showed higher concentrations of some metals and semi-volatile organic pollutants than outdoor samples. Re-entry advisories may have under-predicted exposure levels to homeowners and first responders, as they were based on outdoor samples.
  • The contaminants probably originated from nearby Lake Pontchartrain following levee breaches.

Scientists from the University of Mississippi used bioassays to establish new baseline toxicological profiles for water, suspended sediments and sediments.  Analysis was performed by an Agilent GC-MS in selected ion monitoring mode.

The above photo was provided by Agilent employee Matt Nevill, who lives in Houston, Texas.  The photo (of his sister’s house) was taken by a neighbor while “kayaking through the neighborhood.”  Our thoughts and best wishes go out to anyone affected by a natural disaster.


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