Oil refineries have released 2 million pounds of chemicals in Harvey's wake, and scientists are worried

Tropical Storm Harvey may be on the move — but its after-effects are just beginning to be realized.

In addition to slamming homes and hospitals, the storm struck the heart of Texas' refining industry, where roughly a third of America's oil is processed. In its wake, more than two million pounds of hazardous chemicals have been released into the air, according to filingsreportedwith the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and first reported by Politico.

Those chemicals include cancer-causing and potentially lethal gases like carbon monoxide and benzene, among others.

Shortly after Harvey made landfall, companies including Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy began to shutter local facilities and evacuate workers, taking close to a fifth of the nation's total refining capacity offline.

Yet those efforts failed, in many cases, to prevent the release of hazardous pollutants into the environment.

In some cases, companies were forced to intentionally burn chemicals as a means of disposing them in anticipation of the storm. Chevron Phillips, the company that reported the largest release, burned close to 800,000 pounds of chemicals — nearly 300,000 of which were the colorless, odorless, and potentially deadly gas carbon monoxide — as it shuttered its plant to prepare for Harvey.

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Texans being evacuated during Hurricane Harvey
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Texans being evacuated during Hurricane Harvey
People evacuate by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Volunteers unload evacuee Taylor Mitchell from a rescue vehicle at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Men look for people wanting to be evacuated from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuee Pete Quintana Jr. is wrapped in a blanket at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A man carries a child after being evacuated by dump truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated by a high water truck from the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Dickinson, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
People are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in a collector's vintage military truck belonging to a volunteer in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuees are airlifted in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after flooding due to Hurricane Harvey inundated neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, August 27, 2017. Picture taken August 27, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Johanna Strickland/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in an armored police mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Sterling Broughton is moved from a rescue boat onto a kayak after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey rose in Dickenson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 27, 2017 Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD/Texas Military Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Barb Davis, 74. is helped to dry land after being rescued from her flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People are rescued from a flooded neighborhood after it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A boy and girl hug their grandmothers' dogs after being rescued from rising floodwaters due to Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rescuers help a woman from a flooded retirement home into a boat after Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. A deluge of rain and rising floodwaters left�Houston�immersed and helpless,�crippling a global center of the oil industry and testing the economic resiliency of a state that's home to almost 1 in 12 U.S. workers. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: People wait for a ride to a shelter after being rescued from a flooded neighborhood when it was inundated with rain water, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in areas of Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Dean Mize holds children as he and Jason Legnon use an airboat to rescue people from homes that are inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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At other plants, Harvey's rising waters easily overwhelmed existing safety precautions.

At Exxon's Baytown plant, the floating roof covering one tank "partially sank during the excess rain event" from the storm, it noted in a TCEQ filing showing that close to 13,000 pounds of chemicals — including cancer-causing benzene and toxic lung-irritant xylene — had been released. Similarly, officials at Kinder Morgan's Pasadena terminal, which released close to 300,000 pounds of chemicals, noted in a filing that several floating roof tanks were "impacted by torrential downpour" from Harvey.

Wei-Chun Chin, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Merced who has contributed research on the after-effects of oil spills like Deepwater Horizon, told Business Insider that although the immediate effects of these pollutants on the air sound concerning, he is more worried about the potential for some of those chemicals to stick around.

"I’m more concerned about things that could have a lingering effect and stay in the soil," said Chin. "Benzene is a known carcinogen. So if that's coming back into the ground that would be very bad."

Still, Chin said that researchers' ability to get accurate numbers on these pollutants is very limited right now.

"In many of these areas, the air monitoring stations are suspended. With no measurement we just don’t know the concentrations," he said.

TCEQ is delaying any response to the leaks until flood waters have receded, according to a statement.

"In an ongoing emergency response, the TCEQ and other state agencies give priority to protecting and preventing imminent threats to public health," the statement reads. "Once flood waters have receded, and it is safe to enter flooded areas, debris removal activities will commence. The TCEQ is aware that spills occur during flooding events, and the appropriate primary agency will monitor and work with the responsible party, if known, to take appropriate actions as conditions allow."

Exxon-Mobil did not respond to a request for comment.

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