Commentary: No Taste for Toxic Waste

R.Haltmaier/The Phillipian

As a South Florida native, I am no stranger to the environmental destruction unleashed by hurricanes each year. My hometown was devastated last year by Hurricane Irma: the palm trees were toppled, the roads became hard to navigate, and broken glass littered the ground. In late September, Hurricane Florence made landfall in North and South Carolina, subjecting residents of these states to similar, treacherous flooding and other dangers. Despite the similar tragedies, Carolinians must deal with a challenge that even I, after all my time in Florida, could never imagine: overflowing cesspools of pig feces.

The government’s failure to properly regulate waste management companies and/or fund watchdog agencies has resulted in waste sites that have harmful pollution consequences in the United States, and in hurricane-prone states like those on the East Coast, this can be fatal. Water bodies in the Carolinas are at a high risk of contamination from flooded waste sites, including a pond of coal ash containing hazardous substances breached last week, according to “The New York Times.”  In a map of all “Superfund” sites — dangerous toxic waste sites — published by “TIME” magazine, around 70 are concentrated in the Carolinas, making them, along with thousands of other hazardous sites, vulnerable to breaching in Florence’s aftermath.

The overflow of hog waste and toxic chemicals into clean lakes and rivers is dangerous to local wildlife, as it destroys their habitats and can oftentimes poison animals. For example, after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, toxic leaks into water bodies exposed fish and other aquatic animals to fatal poisonous substances, killing them. Leaked substances also interacted with the ecosystem to cause dangerous algae blooms to appear according to “The New York Times.” Moreover, humans also face public health concerns: according to Vox, exposure to or contact with waste like hog feces or toxic chemicals through a water supply may put public health at risk.

When harmful pathogens, heavy metals, and radioactive substances come into contact with normally safe water bodies, they can lead to bacterial diseases or cancer. These risks are especially visible in less affluent, rural communities. In fact, according to Vox, many of the hazardous waste sites and hog farms in the Carolinas are located in various rural towns. Local and state governments must find more effective methods of waste management to protect the health of residents, especially in disaster-prone areas like North and South Carolina. It is the duty of public officials to safeguard rural and low-income communities from potential disease outbreaks and sanitation crises caused by improperly managed sites.

Government officials must hold companies like Duke Energy and ExxonMobil responsible for having poorly managed waste sites by implementing stricter regulations regarding pollution output. Doing so will ensure that companies do not exploit lenient environmental laws and endanger the health of low-income communities strictly for profit. Maintaining public safety during hurricane seasons should be local governments’ top priority — not protecting the corporate destruction of our environment.

Hurricanes invoke plenty of trauma in communities unaffected by ill-managed waste sites. Dangerous, illness-causing waste spills can result in long-term and detrimental consequences. By advocating to protect communities from environmental hazards and by better anticipating the occurrence of natural disasters, local governments can assist in preventative care for natural disasters.

Megan Vaz is a two-year lower from Weston, FLA. Contact the author at