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Environmental Risks in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

Environmental Risks in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

ADVANTA ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS team have the experience and expertise to assist insurers and corporates in minimising both their financial exposures and long tail liabilities following major flooding incidents such as the recent Hurricane Harvey. 

Evidence from previous catastrophe level floods associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Floyd in the USA indicate that the main human health risks associated with these incidents are the obvious ones - drowning, accidents due to moving water and floating debris but also the less obvious, such as carbon monoxide poisoning (associated with power generating equipment following loss of mains power). This latter risk is one of a number that could become manifest during the insurance claims process, which can have major implications for cost control and the reputations of any business involved in the process, as well as for public health. 

Fortunately, whilst all flood water should technically be regarded as “black water” (i.e. contaminated), the general risk associated with microbial and chemical contamination are regarded as being modest, but in practise concentration levels of contaminants, their nature and sources can vary so widely that reactive local risk assessments are essential. By implementing appropriate systems or providing insight into any systems established by the authorities, ADVANTA can help avoid disproportionately over scoped works that may be implemented by specialist contractors, whilst ensuring that sufficient steps are taken to mitigate the ongoing risks and ensure that reinstatement works can proceed without undue delay. Liabilities from long tail issues such as toxic mould can thus be avoided. 

Floodwaters can carry microbial or chemical contaminants washed off from industrial sites, land with agricultural usage, surcharged drains, buoyant or overturned fuel tanks and chemical vessels and serving pipes breached by floating debris. Whilst dilution can assist due to huge volumes of flood waters, there can often be hot spots of unknown contamination deposited in certain locations when the flood waters recede, causing additional damage to buildings and land that requires specialist intervention. Some risks will be severe and site specific, such as where major oil facilities have had hydrocarbon escapes or as in the well-publicised case of the chemical plant that was flooded leading to an explosion and fire. 

Ignoring these risks can give rise to long tail problems, increased costs, damaged reputations and additional liabilities. ADVANTA can assist in ensuring a systematic, technically correct but proportionate response to these challenges. 

David Waller via e-mail: dwaller@advantaglobal.com 

Environmental Risks via e-mail: environmental@advantaglobal.com 

Advanta London via e-mail: london@advantaglobal.com