Houston’s public housing residents are the worst hit by toxic flooding

Levels of E. coli tested in one development are 135 times above the amount considered safe

Floodwaters in two Houston-area neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Harvey have been contaminated with bacteria and toxins — and the highest levels of contamination were found in a low-income neighborhood built next to a slow-moving river that is known to have been polluted for decades.

A New York Times investigation discovered E. coli levels at four times the amount considered safe in “water flowing down Briarhills Parkway in the Houston Energy Corridor.”

“There’s pretty clearly sewage contamination, and it’s more concentrated inside the home than outside the home,” Lauren Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University who participated in the Times’ research said. “It suggests to me that conditions inside the home are more ideal for bacteria to grow and concentrate. It’s warmer and the water has stagnated for days and days. I know some kids were playing in the floodwater outside those places. That’s concerning to me.”

Though the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have risen concerns about contaminated floodwaters, none of the results of samples they have taken have been made public so far, the Times reported.

The Times elaborated on medical warnings:

Dr. Beau Briese, an emergency room physician at Houston Methodist Hospital, said he had seen a doubling in the number of cases of cellulitis — reddened skin infections — since the storm. He said it was a more modest increase than he had expected, and that the infections had been successfully treated with antibiotics.

Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer of Houston, said residents caring for children, the elderly and those with immune disorders should try to keep them out of homes until they have been cleaned.

In the Clayton Homes public housing development, which is alongside the Buffalo Bayou, levels of E. coli were measured at a shocking 135 times higher than what’s considered safe, the Times reported. The water also included elevated levels of “lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from the floodwaters in the kitchen.”

The Buffalo Bayou has been polluted for years, and it’s been reported that minority residents have suffered the most from the consequences.

“Here it’s normal to see industrial flares from front porches, and to wake up to paint particles from the nearby scrap metal shredding facility floating into homes,” Houston Public Media reported regarding neighborhoods along the bayou.

“I wanted you to come through here because you’re going to see one of the shredding facilities that shreds cars into tiny tiny little pieces of metal. It comes into this community here, and they don’t like it,” said Juan Parras, a community activist who led TEJAS, or Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, in 2011.

Parras said the facility should have never been built. The Ashby high rise was heavily protested in the more affluent parts of town, Houston Public Media reported.

“And there was a lot of complaints, you know, the citizens obviously didn’t want it. And at the same time they were building this,” Parras said. “And sometimes it gets real real high, you know, just a pile of cars here. And so we call it our Ashby high rise. But even though we protested, you know, we got it anyway.

In 2012, environmentalists called for strengthening the Clean Water Act, which helps regulate pollution control, the same law that President Donald Trump’s administration has already proposed rolling back.


Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

“Black Mirror” is coming back

The show is brilliant, but we’re already living in it


"Black Mirror" is coming back, but do we even need it?
“Black Mirror” Season 4(Credit: Youtube/Netflix)

Today, Netflix released the first teaser trailer and show details about the upcoming fourth season of the satirical, often harrowing dystopian British television show “Black Mirror”.

One episode of the forthcoming edition of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant, wonderfully depressing series seems to be in black and white. Another promises to be a homage to “Star Trek” with Jesse Plemons of “Fargo” sitting in the captain’s chair. It’s all very slick looking, very scary, very gripping.

Take a look for yourself.

Sharp, right?

But, as many will no doubt ask over white wine at house parties across the globe, do we even this?

A running joke (if you can call it that) as the election results swept in on November 8, 2016 was that we had been transported into a particularly nasty, particularly sad episode of the critically acclaimed show — that the looming presidency of a bigoted, sundowning reality star seemed pulled straight from a Booker script. (Indeed, some saw season 2 episode featuring a vulgar cartoon bear winning political office and then turning Britain into a dirty authoritarian hellscape as highly prescient.)

As the term of President Donald Trump as shambled along at upsetting speed, the nation (and the world) has only descended further into absurdist, Bookereque scenarios. Now, the commander in chief dictates policy and threatens nuclear hellfire via social media, sides with Nazis, rewrites history at will, compels the Justice Department to monitor those who demonstrate against him and continues to use his base in the Oval Office to wage petty, personal wars against other celebrities. He sources a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist for his daily news.

With a revolving cast of despicables running in and out of the West Wing while opening fighting with each other and pushing “alternative facts,” almost every Trump critic has compared the Executive Branch to Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”.

All this misery has metastasized beyond the White House. Kid Rock may (or may not) be running for Senate. More than half of all Republicans would be fine with Trump delaying the 2018 elections. A significant portion of them would rather have Jefferson Davis — a traitor and a poor leader who lost the Civil War — as president than go through another Barack Obama administration. Men in polo shirts hoist tiki torches in fear of losing not their rights, but their systematically reinforced privileges.

While Trump’s numbers are down overall, his most ardent supporters seem more impressed with him with each and every obvious falsehood or legislative fail. The worse he performs, the more they love him. Our newsfeeds, and the powerlessness many of us feel while looking at them, are quite a bit more frightening and surreal than anything Booker has offered us.

But you know all this, you’ve probably said all this. At a time when every headline is more instructive of our flawed system (and more grimly vicious), the power of “Black Mirror” to point out the cracks in Western society dims.

When it debuted during the Obama administration, it was a needed corrective to the shared liberal belief that equality, sanity and justice were right around the corner. Much as how “Get Out” was designed to explode the myth of a post-racial America, “Black Mirror” arrived to reveal the often unseen monsters lying just beneath the surface of the connected, seamless future Silicon Valley and the technocrats surrounding Obama had sold us.

Now — as you have said, as we all have said — we live with those monsters every day. As relevant as a fourth season of “Black Mirror” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” may be, they run the risk of becoming rote, of simply contributing to the echo chamber of misery and fear that is our Facebook feeds, our off-hours conversation and cable news. What once was revelatory is now no different, and quite a bit more prosaic, than a White House press briefing.

What’s to learn from this show? What’s to fear that we don’t already scream about? How is “Black Mirror” a wakeup call when we already can’t sleep at night?

But, again, you know all this already.

It will be interesting to see if Booker and company can chart out new relevancies, new unexplored fears that have gone unaddressed in the Trump era. If “Black Mirror” cannot do that, however, it will fail. After all, we spend every day on the other side of a dark looking glass.