Environmental Health & Safety

Mobile Detection Unit Measures Hurricane Florence-Related Pollution In Real Time

Sep 21, 2018

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) deploys a mobile unit from California-based Entanglement Technologies to measure levels of Hurricane Florence-related pollution in real time.

“People in the Carolinas are going through an incredibly difficult time because of Hurricane Florence, and we are very concerned about their health and safety,” says Elena Craft, EDF’s senior health scientist. “With tens of thousands of homes damaged, it is likely that the storm damaged industrial facilities and waste sites too, increasing the potential risk for exposure to harmful pollution. That is why we are using the tools we have to track this pollution, protect people’s health and help the region recover.”

Entanglement Technologies designed the technology to provide rapid and precise information on public health risks for emergency responders and people living near chemical plants, coal ash ponds and other potential sources of toxic contamination. EDF used the same technology in the Houston area following the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey, and discovered alarmingly high levels of cancer-causing benzene that neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the likely pollution source had revealed, according to EDF.

Entanglement Technologies uses laboratory-grade analysis to identify individual pollutants, including several volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The mobile unit can measure VOCs in both air and water at very low concentrations, according to EDF. The company also will have an instrument with the capacity to test mercury concentrations.

EDF, meanwhile, says it plans to collaborate with North Carolina- and Texas-based researchers to supplement the organization’s real-time analysis with testing for additional contaminants at nearby labs.   

In the days after Hurricane Harvey, EDF deployed Entanglement Technologies in the southeast Houston neighborhood of Manchester, where the monitoring tool rapidly detected a narrow plume of benzene – roughly as wide as a city block, but invisible to the naked eye. The likely source was Valero Energy Corporation’s Houston refinery, which towers over small houses in the neighborhood. More than 95% of residents are people of color and 90% low-income.

The finding prompted the city of Houston to purchase mobile surveillance units to measure pollution releases during future storms. It also led EPA to open an investigation into the benzene leak at Valero – an investigation that continues a year after the event.

For more information, visit: www.edf.org