Chris Ginter steps out of his monster truck into deep floodwaters on September 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Hurricanes Come and Go, But Public Health Hazards Linger

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Over the last two months, major hurricanes have whipped through the Caribbean and Southern United States, causing severe flooding, power outages, and widespread devastation. Puerto Rico was dealt the most recent blow, after Hurricane Maria took out the island’s entire electrical grid.

Chris Ginter steps out of his monster truck into deep floodwaters on September 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Visual: Justin Sullivan/Getty

As hospitals there rely on generators to care for patients in the immediate aftermath of the storm, doctors and public health officials in Florida and Texas warn residents about the lingering threats brought about by floodwaters and storm surges. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Florida was inundated with raw sewage released from septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural facilities, potentially exposing those in an area already vulnerable to disease to viruses and bacteria including E. coli, salmonella, and hepatitis A. In Harris County, Texas, a 77-year-old woman died after becoming infected with a flesh-eating bacteria following a fall in a flooded home.

Also of concern in Texas are its oil refineries, which have reportedly emitted a year’s worth of pollutants following damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. At least 14 Superfund sites — designated by the EPA as being contaminated with hazardous waste — were also flooded. The agency announced last week that it had recovered over 500 containers of “unidentified, potentially hazardous material,” but did not disclose which sites the containers came from.

Also in the news:

• Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has agreed to cooperate with investigations into his use of charter flights at taxpayers’ expense. In a statement released on Thursday, he said he would reimburse the government for $50,000, but estimates put the total amount spent on private flights since his confirmation in February at over $400,000.(New York Times)

• More than 25 million unsafe abortions are performed around the world each year, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute. The majority of the procedures, which include those carried out by an untrained provider or those that use outdated or dangerous methods, occur in developing countries. (STAT)

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the Republican health care bill would not be put to a vote. Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Rand Paul all spoke out against the legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would have stripped millions of their health insurance. (CNN)

• Apple launched a new privacy website on Wednesday to provide more information on its new FaceID feature for the iPhoneX. Customers expressed concern about how the technology, which scans a user’s face before unlocking the phone, could be used without their consent. (Washington Post)

• As the vote for Catalonia’s independence from Spain looms, researchers are torn about how the outcome will affect funding, collaboration, and other aspects of their work. (Science)

• And finally: Scientists have detected another set of gravitational waves — now the fourth — at observatories in Louisiana, Washington, and Italy. The signal came from the collision of a pair of black holes over a billion light years away. (The Verge)

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