UB environmental engineer addresses health concerns related to Hurricane Harvey

Aug 31, 2017

A disease outbreak from flood waters in Texas is not likely. That's according to University at Buffalo Environmental Engineering Professor James Jensen, who gained expertise in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

UB environmental engineering professor James Jensen is familiar the impact of hurricanes on the Gulf Coast region.
Credit Buffalo.edu

"The water quality really wasn't as bad as you might think it would be," Jensen said of the heavy rain from Katrina, which helped to dilute exposed sewage and chemicals. 

"Most of the health issues there were from mold that occurred days and weeks after the flood waters receded."

Hurricane Harvey, Jensen believes, should serve as a wake up call for cities where the natural environment's great capacity to absorb water often becomes the victim of overdevelopment.

"We've been having hurricanes in the area we call now Texas for millions of years. And that land has survived," Jensen told WBFO News.

"But once we change that land from the ability to absorb water into something that repels water or allows the water to runoff now the quantity of water that's moving is so much greater."

Jensen believes Gulf Coast municipalities can help the situation by returning underutilized paved roads and parking lots to their natural form, allowing them to absorb more water.

"A lot of communities are starting to do that," Jensen said.

"A lot of times we think about just building more canals and building more pathways for that water. They're probably going to end up with a combination of those two approaches."