As cleanup continues following Hurricane Harvey, Texas officials have warned residents of the health risks brought on by the floods. While the warnings focused on illnesses, a new threat is emerging along parts of the coastline — mercury.
In Channelview, east of Houston, residents first noticed the shiny silver substance earlier this week as they surveyed the damage.
Bobby Griffin, 57, told the New York Times that he found mercury at his riverfront property along the San Jacinto River on Tuesday. His home is just 100 yards from the San Jacinto Waste Pits, a superfund site, which has been designated for federal clean-up.
With the flooding around Texas’s superfund sites, officials have been worried about contamination possibly spreading to other areas.
Environmental investigator Lisa Montemayor, who works with the Houston Health Department, says that the mercury found in Channelview will be investigated, but that officials cannot say at this time where it came from.
A neurotoxin, mercury is not easily absorbed through the skin but can be inhaled, endangering the victim’s brain and nervous system. It only takes a few drops to poison a contained room, and, while it’s less dangerous in the open air, it can easily harm people who stand near it or pick it up.
With residents all along the coast mired in a clean-up, an unsuspecting person could be cleaning near the displaced mercury without realizing it.