Texas Clean Air Matters

Here’s how a Houston neighborhood is taking action after decades of environment injustice

Environmental Defense Fund has launched a project with Houston-based nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS) and Texas Southern University to bring community-led air monitoring to a neighborhood surrounded by several pollution sources.

Pleasantville, located on Houston’s east side, was established in 1948 as the first planned community for African-Americans in the city. Today, however, the Houston Ship Channel and one of the busiest stretches of Interstate 610, as well as a sprawling brewery, warehouses, metal recyclers and salvage yards, push hard against the neighborhood, producing significant concerns about environmental justice and human health.

Despite these concerns, Texas regulators have not placed an air monitor in Pleasantville to document the impacts of the pollution sources. In fact, the state’s closest monitor is about two miles away, meaning that the community’s residents are unaware of which pollutants are in the air they are breathing. As we know from our work in Oakland, a monitor this far away may miss important local pollution sources – and likely does not accurately reflect their exposures to harmful chemicals. Read More »

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Houston neighborhood maps decades-old pollution problem, paving way for communities nationwide

Bridgette Murray, a retired nurse, lives in a predominantly black neighborhood on Houston’s east side, where small houses grace tree-shaded streets, all built around two schools and a city park.

Its name is Pleasantville, a postwar version of the American dream. But the reality is something different.

Warehouses, metal recyclers, salvage yards, Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery and an interstate push hard against the neighborhood, proof and product of the city’s light-on-regulations approach to land use. Trains and trucks rumble through the area day and night. It can be difficult to breathe.

“Playing victim has never been one of my personality traits,” said Murray, whose family moved to Pleasantville in 1957, years before industry’s arrival. “I am here to work with the residents for solutions.”

As founder of the nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, or ACTS, Murray is working with Environmental Defense Fund to fully understand Pleasantville’s air pollution and its associated harmful health effects. She wants to map a fair, just and sustainable path forward for her community. Read More »

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Why accurate reporting of air pollution after Hurricane Harvey matters

Hartmann Park, Valero Refinery, Manchester County, Houston Texas.

In addition to dumping historic amounts of rain across southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey triggered a wave of air pollution, with petrochemical plants and oil refineries releasing 8.3 million pounds of harmful chemicals that exceeded state limits. At least, that is what they told state officials.

Companies, however, reduced those estimates by 1.7 million pounds in later filings with the state, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

The steep drop suggests that some companies may not have accounted accurately for all Harvey-related pollution increases in their reporting to the state. As a result, people’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, may be substantially underestimated.

Industry frequently justified the changes in emissions estimates by arguing that flexible state-issued permits, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s suspension of several environmental rules in advance of Harvey, made the pollution legal. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Extreme Weather, Houston, Ozone, TCEQ, Texas Permitting, Uncategorized / Comments are closed

Texans urge Gov. Abbott to act on storm-related air pollution before the next Harvey

With the start of this year’s hurricane season, Environmental Defense Fund and our partners in the Houston-based One Breath Partnership delivered a letter signed by more than 3,000 Texans and 20 organizations to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to act now to protect people from harmful air pollution before the next storm.

The letter to Gov. Abbott comes after Hurricane Harvey unleashed a second storm of air pollution. By industry’s own estimates, the Houston region’s network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants released more than 2 million pounds of harmful chemicals into the air during and after the storm – the equivalent of six months’ worth of unauthorized air pollution in just a few days.

Many industrial plants in Harvey’s path released extra pollutants into the air when they shut down in preparation for the storm and when they resumed operations. For example, Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown reported releasing roughly 750,000 pounds of excess emissions, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Harvey damaged other facilities, allowing hazardous gases to escape. EDF and Houston officials, for example, detected alarmingly high levels of benzene in Manchester, a neighborhood adjacent to a storm-damaged Valero Energy refinery. In Crosby, explosions at a flooded chemical plant triggered an evacuation of nearby residents and sent emergency workers to hospitals. Yet, for all the attention the Arkema episode received, industry reports showed that there were 10 larger releases of air pollution because of storm damage, an EDF analysis found.

“TCEQ was unprepared to track Harvey’s air pollution in real time,” said Elena Craft, senior health scientist at EDF. “Although TCEQ has dozens of stationary monitors across Houston, many of them were turned off during the storm. That is why mobile, on-the-ground monitoring is so crucial. We need to be sure that the agency is there when it is needed, doing its job to protect the people from exposure to different environmental threats.” Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Extreme Weather, Houston, Legislation, TCEQ, Uncategorized / Comments are closed

A healthier, more resilient Houston needs cleaner air

This op-ed originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

In 2017, Houston endured 21 days with unhealthy levels of smog, triggering asthma attacks and missed school days for many of our children and hospitalizations for grandparents.

And, believe it or not, that was an improvement. As this century began, Houston took the unwanted title of America’s smog capital from Los Angeles, a sign of the region’s growing industries and traffic. Since then, our community, with the help of stronger federal safeguards, has made significant advances in air quality, allowing us to drop to No. 12 in the American Lung Association’s latest ranking of most polluted cities.

As the coughing and burning lungs from last year painfully remind us, Houston is still suffering from a public health problem that we cannot pretend is in our rear-view mirror. We must face the reality: There is a lot more work to do bring our air into compliance with health-based standards.

Read More »

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Asthma in Texas

ChildAsthma(This post was written by Grace Tee Lewis, EDF’s Kravis Postdoctoral Science Fellow)

August in Texas is not for the weak of heart or lung.

As temperatures rise, so do levels of air pollutants such as ground-level ozone – better known as smog. For those with asthma, being outside on high ozone days can lead to asthma attacks. Children, older adults and people who work outside are the most susceptible.

In Texas, asthma affects roughly 1 in 13 adults and 1 in 11 children. In 2014, this represented 1.4 million Texans aged 18 years or older and 617,000 children according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Read More »

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