"In the days and weeks after Harvey flooded parts of my neighborhood, the air felt thick and full of chemicals, and it was hard for me to breathe."

Evan Vargas
Northeast Houston resident and teacher

Hurricane Harvey damaged many houses in my northeast Houston neighborhood. Somehow, my family’s home was unscathed. The storm, however, took a toll on my health, with the dirty air affecting my asthma and severe allergies more than before.

In the days and weeks after Harvey flooded parts of my neighborhood, the air felt thick and full of chemicals, and it was hard for me to breathe. I made several 311 complaints to the city’s Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention. Eventually, a city employee took air quality measurements in my neighborhood but it did not lead to any action. My condition, meanwhile, did not improve. It was so bad that I had surgery to remove polyps in my sinuses.

The situation was not any better for my students in Pasadena, where I taught sixth grade. About one-third of the school’s 900 students had houses or cars, or both, damaged by the storm. With flooding and debris in the streets, we missed two weeks of classes, putting the students behind in the curriculum.

My school’s community responded by organizing food and clothing drives for affected students and others, but it was not enough. For months after the storm, several houses within a half-mile radius of the school had visible damage and stacks of sheetrock in their front yards.

Before the next Harvey, I want assurances that our neighborhoods will be prepared. We need better flood control and air quality monitoring. When companies release additional pollution, I want to see investigations and penalties for those responsible because they are clearly affecting people’s health. Texas and city officials have an obligation to protect us.

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