Hurricane Irma this past week was a natural disaster of huge proportions, resulting in numerous deaths and massive property destruction. While these impacts are in our mind as the most serious, we also need to consider the possibility of Irma's flooding and wind causing environmental impacts to Florida, and to the properties and homes of countless Floridians.
Long after the storm has faded away, many properties may still face the prospect of pollution, contamination, or other possible environmental impacts.
Having an office ourselves in central Florida, we know first-hand the impact that Irma has had. And now, we're getting calls and requests for information about a question that many in Florida have: Could Hurricane Irma have caused pollution or contamination of my property in Florida?
This is an incredibly important question for a number of reasons, mostly that the storm and its impact spared no one, affecting all income levels, all types of properties and locations all across the Sunshine State from the Keys to the Georgia border. Therefore, if Hurricane Irma had the ability to result in pollution or contamination to property in Florida, we're talking about a lot of impact to a lot of properties!
Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP
Could Hurricane Irma cause pollution or contaminate property?
Certainly, the answer to whether or not a major storm or hurricane, like Hurricane Irma in Florida, had the potential to cause pollution or contaminate property is a clear and obvious YES.
We've all heard and seen the reports of toxic floodwaters filled with petroleum, heavy metals, and chemicals, flooded septic systems, burst pipes, and more. Any of these contaminants have the chance to cause significant environmental impacts, including
What might be a source of pollution or contamination that could result from the impacts of a major storm or hurricane like Hurricane Irma? Here are just a few:
Releases of Oil or Petroleum Products
Oil or petroleum products are found everywhere, such as underground tanks at gas stations, aboveground storage tanks, flooded vehicles, unsecured tanks and fuel lines, broken pipes, refineries, industrial sites, and almost an infinite number of other sources.
Many might think that contamination from oil or petroleum could only happen to properties near or next to something like an oil storage location, refinery, or a gas station. Think again, as it could happen almost anywhere.
The possibility of petroleum, whether gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, or others being in the floodwaters that much of the State had to deal with is very real, and probably very common.
And think of this: petroleum is lighter than water, so it floated atop those floodwaters and may have been left behind when those waters evaporate from the hot Florida
Chemicals can come from the same variety of sources as petroleum or oil. In other words, there are chemicals stored and used everywhere.
These don't need to have come from a flooded chemical plant, they can come from a wide range of places, including any type of industrial facility, military or government locations, commercial facilities, homeowners themselves (how many of us store chemicals of one sort or another in our sheds or garages?), and much, much more.
While many of these chemicals in floodwaters might be harmless, others might just present a very real concern at your property after the flooding recedes.
Sewage System Overflows
The name alone makes the problem obvious. Many areas utilize septic systems of one type or another for the disposal of human waste and other types of sewage. Many towns and cities have larger sewage treatment facilities as well. Many of these, whether small septic systems or massive municipal operations, became flooded, or had their connections broken, resulting in the discharge or release of waste contaminants into the floodwaters. The contaminants flowed through neighborhoods, shopping centers, and more.
This is one of the reasons why many Floridians continue to be required to boil their water before drinking or handling, as it may contain a very unhealthy mixture of pathogens and other toxic or harmful components.
Source: Gerald Herbert / AP
Are there other sources of contamination in Florida from Hurricane Irma?
Absolutely. We're seeing and hearing numerous stories about Superfund sites covered in water and inaccessible after the storms. With the threat of the flooding of existing contaminated sites comes the possible release of hazardous or toxic chemicals. Florida, just like other states across the country, contains hundreds of sites both large and small undergoing investigation or cleanup, and many of those were flooded or otherwise impacted by Hurricane Irma. What might they have contributed to floodwaters?
And of course, there is the separate issue of mold and mildew on any home, building, or other structure on your property. Put water and buildings together in any place as hot and humid as Florida, and it's almost a guarantee mold & mildew will start to form.
All floodwater in Florida is contaminated after Hurricane Irma?
No. Don't misunderstand what we're saying. We're not saying that all floodwaters are or were contaminated, or that all properties are contaminated. Not at all. In fact, many probably are fine and suffered little to no irreversible impact from contamination or pollution from Hurricane Irma.
But the bottom line is this, there is a likelihood that some, not all, property in Florida is contaminated or polluted due to Hurricane Irma.
Source: Stephen Yang / Reuters
How can I tell if Hurricane Irma contaminated my property in Florida?
So the real question is not whether or not a major storm like Hurricane Irma could impact properties in Florida by causing residual contamination, it's how do you find out? And if some problem is found, what do you do about it?
The answer is simple, but not one many will like to hear. Someone, an environmental professional, is going to have to take a look at your property and assess whether there is pollution or contamination at it.
There are several ways to do this, from simple straightforward property inspections to complex comprehensive site investigations, and depending on what is suspected or found, these could cost anywhere from a few hundred bucks to tens of thousands of dollars. It all depends on what's needed at your property, and what the suspected contamination may be. In some instances, it might be a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, which also might help you narrow down the possibility that the contamination may have been present before the storm, should that become an issue.
And then finally, what to do about the pollution or contamination that might be found. Is anyone responsible? Is a cleanup covered by insurance? Is government assistance available?
Complex problems, and equally complex answers. But it starts with understanding that yes, a major storm like Hurricane Irma can cause contamination of your property.
Want further help? From our office in the Orlando area, we're centrally located to help Floridians throughout the State after this and any other natural disaster. You've been through enough, don't let the possibility of pollution or contamination of your property add to your worries. Click here to contact us or call us anytime at 888-RMA-0230.