HOUSTON–The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to protect black, Latino and poor communities from oil refineries that put nearby residents at heightened risk of cancer, asthma, and other upper respiratory diseases, witnesses testified at an EPA Houston-area public hearing on proposed updates to emissions standards for refineries.
“Numerous studies, including some of my own, have documented that poor people and people of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and workplace,” said Robert D. Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. “Refinery pollution poses special health threats to community residents that generally have higher concentration of uninsured–heightening their vulnerability.”
The proposed EPA provisions will cause a reduction of 5,600 tons per year of toxic air pollutants and 52,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, agency officials said.
According to the EPA, exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer. The EPA estimates the capital cost of the proposed rule will be $240 million.
More than 40 people testified at the hearing, which was held in Galena Park, a refinery community along the Houston Ship Channel.
Bullard said, “Many of these neighborhoods have schools, parks and playgrounds, and low-income public housing next-door to these refineries, which pose potential health threats to our most vulnerable population–children.”
Theresa Landrum of the 48217 Community Environmental Health Organization said, “People in communities that are inundated with industry are mostly African American. The EPA always goes on technical rules but they have to understand that these communities are at risk of cancer, asthma, and other upper respiratory diseases and they have to take into consideration the long-term effect against human health.”
Juan Parras, director of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, said: “The industry doesn’t get it. All they’re looking at is the cost factor and they don’t consider the cost factor on health issues related to their exposure to the community. Clean up, that’s all we’re asking.”