Environmental Crisis Unfolding in Houston as Oil & Chemical Industry Spew Toxic Pollutants into Air

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Recently, As fallout from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana continues, at least 30 people have died and more than 17,000 people are in shelters. Hundreds of thousands are under evacuation orders, and all past U.S. rainfall records have been shattered.

In Texas, a third of Harris County—which encompasses Houston—is currently underwater. Houston officials have imposed a mandatory curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. ExxonMobil says Harvey has damaged at least two of its refineries, causing thousands of pounds of chemicals to be released into the air. Residents in Crosby, Texas, are being evacuated amid concerns a chemical factory damaged by Harvey could explode.
Should we not question Exxon Mobil’s practices in the first place?

Bryan Parras
organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign and the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

As fallout from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana continues, at least 30 people have died and more than 17,000 people are in shelters. Hundreds of thousands are under evacuation orders, and all past U.S. rainfall records have been shattered. In Texas, a third of Harris County—which encompasses Houston—is currently underwater. Houston officials have imposed a mandatory curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. ExxonMobil says Harvey has damaged at least two of its refineries, causing thousands of pounds of chemicals to be released into the air. Residents in Crosby, Texas, are being evacuated amid concerns a chemical factory damaged by Harvey could explode. We speak with Bryan Parras, organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign and the group Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.).

In Texas and Louisiana, at least 30 people have died, more than 17,000 people are in shelters, hundreds of thousands are under evacuation orders, and all past U.S. rainfall records have been shattered, as Hurricane Harvey continues to wreak climate chaos in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. Early today, Harvey, now a tropical storm, made landfall again near Cameron, Louisiana, just beyond the Texas border. Nearly a third of Harris County residents remain underwater. The county is home to over 4.5 million people and includes Houston. While the rain has largely moved east into Louisiana, the Houston area remains in a state of crisis as rivers continue to rise and two large reservoirs are overflowing.

Concern is also growing over the environmental and public health impact of the storm. Houston is home to the country’s largest refining and petrochemical complex. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, more than 1 million pounds of air pollution have been released into the air as petrochemical plants were forced to shut down by the storm. At least 10 oil refineries have been shut down so far.

Workers at ExxonMobil’s oil refinery in Baytown said the facility, quote, “partially sank” after it flooded and that Exxon was authorized by state environmental officials to release excess emissions while it shut down. In Beaumont, flooding at another Exxon refinery damaged equipment that captures sulfur dioxide, causing it to release amounts that far exceed the company’s permits. This comes as state officials shut off air quality monitors to protect them from storm-related damage, and are relying on facilities to self-report any toxic fumes they release. In April, a federal judge ordered Exxon to pay nearly $20 million in penalties for releasing about 10 million pounds of toxic substances, like benzene.

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