"As rain poured and floodwaters inched toward his house in south Houston, Wes Highfield set out on a risky mission in his Jeep Cherokee. He drove in several directions to reach a nearby creek to collect water samples, but each time he was turned back when water washed against his floorboard.
“Yesterday as these large retention ponds filled up, eight feet deep in places, kids were swimming in them, and that’s not good,” said Highfield, a scientist at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus. The Brio Refining toxic Superfund site, where ethylbenzene, chlorinated hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds were once pooled in pits before the Environmental Protection Agency removed them, sits “just up the road, and it drains into our watershed,” he said.
Harris County, home to Houston, has at least a dozen federal Superfund sites, more than any county in Texas. On top of that, the state lists several other highly toxic sites managed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Up to 30 percent of the county is under water. Like other scientists in the area, Highfield is deeply worried about toxins leaking into the water during an unprecedented rainfall and flooding from Hurricane Harvey that caused dams to spill over for the first time in history. On Tuesday, ExxonMobil reported that two of its refineries east of Houston had been damaged in the flood and released pollutants. “I made a couple of phone calls to colleagues who said bottle up [samples], label them and we’ll run them all,” Highfield said."