Disasters Leave a Toxic Tail

Following a natural disaster, toxic materials released by the storm waters wreak havoc on the environment and public health.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 5 min read

The year 2017 was a bad year for named storms. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused widespread property damage and loss of life. While refineries and chemical plants were secured, pollution and contamination from agricultural and pool chemicals as well as fuels and lubricants could be seen far and wide.


“Since the Murphy Oil release during Hurricane Katrina, heavy industrial facilities at risk have developed stronger preparedness and storm contingency plans,” said Marcel Ricciardelli, senior vice president of environmental, design, professional and surety, Allied World.

“A single major release can result in extensive damage.”

While no Murphy Oil-scaled events occurred, 2017 saw tank roof collapses, fires and explosions, air pollution releases, spills and waste site flooding. To add historical context, Hurricane Sandy, which hit in 2013, resulted in similar types of releases from flooded vehicles and underground/aboveground storage tanks.

“Major changes in building codes or government regulations would likely be needed to harden small businesses, commercial buildings, homes and vehicles,” said Ricciardelli. “The key question is whether the cost and effort would help to reduce releases significantly.”

He added, “I believe that it has been most effective to plan for worst-case scenarios, using preparation time to remove hazardous materials and to develop contingencies for critical services. Unfortunately, there is a lack of predictability with regard to weather intensity and flooding.”

Planning for Contaminants

Flooding is a broad peril with the ability to move pollution.

“Without the ability to prevent flooding, it is difficult to prevent possible contamination from flood waters,” said Ricciardelli. “Flood water can be contaminated from sewage overflows, waste sites, releases from mechanical systems, energy infrastructure and materials in the chain of commerce.”

Marcel Ricciardelli, senior vice president of environmental, design, professional and surety, Allied World

Given that reality, “property owners should understand that contingency plans should be developed to include assistance from emergency response firms and the possible use of environmental insurance as part of their risk management plan. An environmental insurance policy may provide coverage for the clean-up of pollution that migrates from off-site sources.”

Most substantial industrial facilities have management and emergency response plans in place that are required.

“For facilities with aboveground tanks, storm surges and flooding are significant concerns for tank failures,” said Eugene Wingert, environmental manager, Chubb Risk Engineering Services. “Debris generated from a storm can also damage tanks. A facility’s contingency plan should anticipate methods that protect tanks from surges, flooding or floating debris.”

“You can debate the causes, but there is no debate on the effects. We are getting greater levels of severity in weather events.” — Robert Horkovich, managing partner, Anderson Kill

Unexpected conditions can lend themselves to toxic repercussions.


“For example, in the case of the Arkema plant, the fire and environmental damages were the result of the loss of back-up generators,” Wingert noted. “The loss of power impacted the ability to cool the storage areas, and chemicals within these areas reacted at the higher temperatures.”

Speaking broadly, he added, “Conditions such as storm surge, flooding, winds are all perils that may exacerbate the release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere causing third-party exposure, bodily injury, water-supply infiltration, air exposure and provoke the need for remediation.”

Continued disaster preparation becomes more important as climate change worsens.

“You can debate the causes, but there is no debate on the effects,” said Robert Horkovich, managing partner at the law firm of Anderson Kill. “We are getting greater levels of severity in weather events. Even in 2016, which was not a bad year for hurricanes, we saw batteries of dozens of hurricanes running through a state.”

As local officials increase their efforts and preparation, they are also looking at prevention. There has been some discussion of limiting reconstruction in flood zones, but it’s easier said than done.

“This is a complex question,” said Ricciardelli. “In many cases, individuals or companies can rebuild subject to zoning requirements or building codes. Building in a flood zone may come with increased building requirements and additional insurance costs.”

The combination of building codes and increased costs may prevent those with limited resources from rebuilding without government support.

Similarly, with new flood zones, consideration of revising drainage systems is taking place. Again, not so simple. Funding would be necessary to construct flood prevention and draining systems, and their effectiveness would be based on predictability.

“I believe that these types of systems would only be suitable for chronic flooding areas and can only handle situations within their design parameters,” said Ricciardelli.

“The damage from Hurricane Harvey, like Katrina, would likely not have been in anyone’s design parameters. The flooding from Harvey was caused, in part, by reservoir releases that were needed to prevent dam collapse.”

A Public Health Concern

One politically charged issue, long-tail health concerns, is not as much of a liability problem as it might seem; “Our environment has pollution from our industrialization,” said Ricciardelli.

“It is difficult to say whether the additional pollution released from a catastrophic weather event creates long-term effects beyond the chemicals and pollutants we add every day.”

He explained that “the air quality deteriorated after Harvey due to pollution from the industrial facilities in the Houston area. The air quality today is very similar to air quality prior to the storm. Consistent poor air quality is a public health issue. I believe it is unlikely the spike after a storm would result in a larger public health crisis in the long term.”

“It is difficult to say whether the additional pollution released from a catastrophic weather event creates long-term effects beyond the chemicals and pollutants we add every day.” —Marcel Ricciardelli, senior vice president of environmental, design, professional and surety, Allied World

A significant pollution event is easier to evaluate due to gross contamination within a finite area.


“Gross contamination is more likely to cause a public health crisis,” Ricciardelli added, “which would be handled by removing individuals from the exposure and potentially making the affected area uninhabitable for an extended period.”

Horkovich stressed the importance of business interruption insurance: “I have had cases where a client was surrounded by a moat of flood waters. There was no damage to their facility, but they were unable to operate, because they could not get raw materials in or finished goods out.

“I have many clients that are chemical and oil companies,” Horkovich continued. “My advice to them is always do what you need to do to protect your facilities and your company. You can get insurance but also make it so that no one can fault your company or your management when bad things happen.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.


But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.


Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]