The Environmental Impact of Hurricanes

Risk Management Magazine

PUBLISHED ON: December 4, 2017

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Author's note:  This past August, Anderson Kill mourned the untimely passing of our colleague John Nevius, chair of the firm’s environmental law group, after a long battle with cancer. An intrepid policyholder’s attorney, John was also a registered professional engineer and, prior to beginning his law career, a senior project manager/hydrogeologist at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. As an attorney, he brought a wealth of technical knowledge to complex environmental insurance coverage disputes. That expertise is reflected in John’s voluminous writings on environmental risks and insurance issues, and nowhere so much as in his 2012 article “Sandy’s Environmental Impacts: Cleanup has Just Begun,” which addressed everything from major chemical discharges to exposure to asbestos and lead during cleanup. In memory of John, and to bring the benefit of his analysis to those who will be tasked with assessing and mitigating the enormous and multi-faceted destruction wrought by this year’s hurricanes, I have updated his article to address the environmental hazards likely to be faced during the long, costly and sometimes doubtless dangerous recovery that will soon begin in the wake of this year’s storms.

It will be some time before the full extent of environmental damage wrought by this year’s devastating hurricanes is fully documented or addressed. Within days of Harvey’s landfall on the Gulf Coast in late August, however, it was reported that the superstorm had caused the release of nearly one million pounds of seven toxic compounds, including benzene, a carcinogenic substance, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Numerous toxic plumes arose from explosions at the Arkema chemical plant caused by the failure of systems cooling volatile chemicals because of a loss of power.