Oil refineries in Hurricane Harvey’s path are polluting Latino and low-income neighborhoods
Oil refineries in Hurricane Harvey’s path are polluting Latino and low-income neighborhoods.
When refineries are forced to shut down—as were at least 11 along the Texas coast and the greater Houston area, due to Hurricane Harvey—they often release far greater volumes of toxic air pollution than the normal legal limits would allow.
Almost half of the country’s petroleum and natural gas refining capacity sits along the Gulf Coast, and Houston, 30 miles inland, is home to the largest refining petrochemical production complex in the country.
These neighborhoods, sometimes within a mile of refineries’ perimeter fences, have long faced “more exposure to air toxics than almost anywhere in the country,” Cohan says.
It released toxins including benzene, hexane, and toluene far in excess of its permits.
About 20 miles south of Houston, Equistar Chemicals’ sprawling Channelview complex lost power during Harvey, forcing it to flare off excess gasses—releasing carbon monoxide, ethylene gas, and a host of other air toxics not typically covered by its permit in the process.
Water pollution from some facilities is also spiking: BASF’s Beaumont Agro plant, which produces agricultural chemicals, notes in an “exceptional event” filing that its toxin-laden waste water “will continue to overflow to the ground until the rain stops.” Meanwhile, several Superfund sites—areas designated the most toxic in the country—threaten to contaminate the floodwaters too.
As people wade into flood waters, experts are concerned about exposure.
Up the road from the Brio Refinery Superfund site in Harris County, where ethylbenzene, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and other chemical compounds were once pooled in pits, nearby retention ponds turned into swimming holes.
“Each time we have a rain event, this contamination is being spread into more communities, homes, neighborhoods, and further exposing more and more people,” Parras told Democracy Now.