The Chemical Industry That Lobbied For Lower Regulations Is Now Poisoning Houston

Dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is bad enough.

Now we learn Texas has another problem–chemical poisoning.

Thursday morning, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, experienced two explosions, releasing organic peroxides into the air, sending at least ten sheriff’s deputies to the hospital.

And in Houston, trying to recover from one of the worst hurricanes in Texas’ history, residents are dealing with a similar problem as Crosby.

Refineries and chemical plants are reporting that because of hurricane damage or preventative closures, they have released more than 2,700 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Ozone levels in southwest Houston were nearly three times higher than the national standard on Friday.

The fact this happened should not be surprising considering many Republican Texas lawmakers who accepted tens of millions in campaign contributions from chemical industry lobbyists, like the American Chemistry Council, fought regulations designed to improve factory safety procedures.

Those regulations were supposed to take effect this year; instead the Trump administration stopped them.

After a 2013 chemical plant explosion in West, Texas killed 15 people, the Obama administration sought to raise chemical plant safety standards.

This led to an executive order in which former president Barack Obama proposed an Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program overhaul.

About it, the EPA said at the time the new rules would:

“Seek to improve chemical process safety, assist local emergency authorities in planning for and responding to accidents, and improve public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated source.”

Arkema has six production plants in Texas, and has received more than $8.7 million in taxpayer subsidies. The Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration (OSHA) fined Arkema’s Crosby plant more than $90,000 earlier this year for ten “serious” violations.

According to the Associated Press, the Crosby facility houses large amounts of toxic sulfur dioxide and flammable methylpropen. The presence of these chemicals required Arkema to submit a risk management plan to the EPA, which would have strengthened safety requirements.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), though, continues to provide chemical companies the legal camouflage to conceal their regulated chemicals’ locations.

Since hurricane Harvey last week, more than 60 ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and other plants have released nearly one million pounds of benzene, hexane, sulfur dioxide, butadiene, and xylene into the air, according a Center for Biological Diversity analysis.

Since the Clean Air Act’s passage in 1970, Houston has not met national air quality standards.

Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, said:

“It’s a really serious public health crisis from the pollution and other impacts people are facing. Communities in close proximity to these facilities will get the worst of it, as they get the worst of it on a daily basis. There’s also the acute danger of one of these facilities exploding in neighborhoods where storage tanks are adjacent to people’s back yards. It’s a very real threat and it’s a very precarious situation.”

Texas lawmakers such as Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Joe Barton (R), Rep. Pete Olson (R), Rep. Gene Green (D), Rep. Pete Sessions (R) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R), are among those individuals who have received more than $100,000 from the petroleum and chemical industry.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.