As U.S. braces for Hurricane Florence, report reveals devastating environmental impact of 2017’s Harvey

Hurricane Florence to hit Wilmington by late Wednesday
WATCH: Hurricane Florence to hit Wilmington by late Wednesday

Hurricane Florence is barreling towards North and South Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane, and with it comes evacuation orders for over a million people.

The storm is expected to hit the coast as a major hurricane, which could cause major damage in the region. But it’s also expected to stall out in the area — much like Hurricane Harvey did in Texas last year — and with that could come large amounts of flooding, including inland areas, as well as the coast.

READ MORE: Hurricane Florence is ‘very dangerous,’ but don’t expect everyone to evacuate

The size of Florence is “staggering,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned.

“We could cover several states easily with the cloud cover alone,” Graham said. “This is not just a coastal event.”

WATCH: Time-lapse video of a NOAA WP-3D Hurricane Hunter flight into Hurricane Florence on Sep. 10, 2018.

Hurricane Hunter flies through eye of Florence
Hurricane Hunter flies through eye of Florence

While the storm itself is expected to be “extremely dangerous” according to forecasters, another danger lurks after the storm has passed: pollution.

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According to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, “the aftermath (of Hurricane Harvey) was a man-made environmental disaster.”

The report, titled “Preparing for the next storm,” says 8.3 million pounds of unauthorized pollution was leaked into the air late last summer in Texas due to incidents connected to the hurricane.

Residents recorded symptoms including trouble breathing, rashes, and fatigue.

READ MORE: Hurricane Florence could soon morph into Category 5 storm — but what about Category 6?

The air pollutants came from the area’s industrial plants, many of which didn’t shut down early enough and were “seemingly caught off guard when power went out,” the report states.

One of those such plants was the Arkema chemical plant, part of which caught fire and exploded during the storm.

READ MORE: Texas chemical plant under criminal investigation for Harvey explosions

Explosions rock Harvey-damaged chemical plant near Houston
Explosions rock Harvey-damaged chemical plant near Houston

Along with immediate effects like an increase in asthma attacks and irritated eyes, the long-term health effects of these pollutants, which included carcinogens like benzene, won’t be known for years to come.

“The science is pretty solid that if you release this much benzene into the air, the people who breathed it in do have that increased risk later in life of developing cancer,” said Tom Pelton of the Environmental Integrity Project.

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Another area that was polluted was the floodwater — which contained sewage, fuel and toxic pollutants when storage tanks failed and sewage treatment plants overflowed.

“More engineering, more planning is needed as we recognize that the waters will rise and with climate change,” Pelton said.

One report from Popular Science recorded a man who contracted flesh-eating disease from Harvey’s floodwaters.

WATCH: Officials warn residents about danger of Hurricane Florence 

The U.S. Center for Disease Control also warns about infectious diseases or unsafe chemicals that can spread through standing flood waters.

“Remove and throw out drywall and insulation that was contaminated with flood water or sewage. Throw out items that cannot be washed and cleaned with a bleach solution: mattresses, pillows, carpeting, carpet padding, and stuffed toys,” the CDC website recommends.

The report offers some suggestions that can transfer to the upcoming storm season, including Hurricane Florence.

“In terms of immediate advice, I would say it probably is mostly about industrial pollution,” Pelton said.

“Plants should try to shut down in advance of the storm. Don’t wait until the flooding happens.”

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He explained that the report found in Corpus Christi, where plants shut down pre-emptively, fewer air pollutants were released compared to Houston or Port Arthur, where plants didn’t shut down ahead of the storm.

Already, plants on the coast of South Carolina are taking note of the storm; Volvo Car Group is ordering a temporary idle of its car factory, Bloomberg reports. Other car factories in the area are monitoring the situation.

But companies and government should be looking at longer term responses to the report, Pelton said, including new technology and new locations for plants and sewage treatment facilities.