Hurricane Harvey’s overwhelming rainfall was unlike anything recorded in U.S. history, easily surpassing previous landmark storms, with totals as high as 70 inches in some areas of southeastern Texas.
Yet the historic rainfall total is only part of the Harvey story: the storm also let loose a toxic stew of chemicals and other threats to people’s health. Eight months later, however, we still do not know the full extent of Harvey’s havoc on people’s physical and mental health.
To gain understanding of the storm’s long-term health effects, Rice University, Environmental Defense Fund and the Houston Health Department have created the Hurricane Harvey Registry.
Here are three reasons why the registry is important:
We still do not know Harvey’s toll on human health
Reporters cataloged more than 100 Harvey-related releases of toxic chemicals in the Houston area. Most of them went unnoticed by regulators and the media. With some of the largest releases, including in Crosby, Galena Park and the southeast Houston neighborhood of Manchester, companies initially understated the amount and potential toxicity of the pollution.
There is no doubt that Harvey had wide short-term health consequences. Doctors say the storm produced coughs and asthma that for some people have yet to go away.
Through the registry, researchers can identify who was – and continues to be – at risk from the storm.
Data can help to protect people from storm-related threats
The dangers of Harvey did not recede with the floodwaters. The storm deposited dangerous bacteria and toxic chemicals from industrial facilities and waste sites. Oil refineries and chemical plants also released millions of pounds of extra pollution into the air for weeks after Harvey because of startups, shutdowns and storm-related damage.
To identify vulnerable people and neighborhoods, researchers will combine basic health and housing information provided by those who enroll in the registry with all available environmental exposure data, like measurements of hazardous pollutants.
The Houston Health Department will be able to use the registry to inform healthcare interventions and to predict adverse health outcomes. Officials also will use information to understand how it can respond more actively to health threats from these extreme flooding events, which will become only more frequent as the globe continues to warm.
Houston needs you
Please enroll at harveyregistry.rice.edu. The registry needs as many Houston residents as possible to enroll. It does not matter if you did or did not experience flooding. If you lived in Houston during the Hurricane, you are eligible to participate in the registry. We are collecting information from people of all ages, including children.
The registry is voluntary. The project team may reach out to you in the future to learn more about your experience, but you will be under no obligation to respond to future inquiries.
The bottom line: The more people participate, the more impact the registry can have on the health and safety of those living here.