Category Archives: pollution

High levels of cancer-causing benzene found near 6 Texas refineries, report shows

Parts of the Chevron Pasadena refinery can be seen behind Kruse Elementary School, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Pasadena. Air monitors have been placed around the refinery to detect cancer-causing benzene. The refinery is less than a mile from several schools, and a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project says that six of the 10 refineries releasing excessive amounts of benzene are in Texas. Photo: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

In the fall of 2018, a leak at a Pasadena oil refinery led to the release of thousands of pounds of toxic pollutants, including some 8,000 pounds of cancer-causing benzene.

During that nearly 67-day stretch, the Pasadena Refining System reported its highest two-week average concentration of benzene from one of its fence-line monitors — a level that was 6.5 times above a federal guideline for short-term exposure.

The Pasadena refinery is one of 10 across the country that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for benzene as of Sept. 30, according to an analysis released Thursday by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. Six of them are in Texas, including three in the Houston area.

“Benzene is the most ubiquitous hazardous air pollutant Houston has to deal with, we are always watching it and very concerned about it,” said Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. “It’s a carcinogen. It’s also a precursor to ozone formation and so understanding where we can go in and work on reducing benzene emissions is real vital information.”

Communities that face long-term exposure to benzene from the top 10 companies — whose annual averages ranged from 10 to 49 micrograms per cubic meter — could see as many as four additional cancers per 10,000 people, the group said, based on estimates from the EPA.

“The numbers are high enough to be worrisome,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the group, “and (state officials) ought to turn their attention now to what can be done to bring those emissions down.”

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

EPA still monitoring wells near dry cleaners that was named a Superfund site two decades ago

EPA contractors in the parking lot of Cypress Centre, 11600 Jones Road, conduct testing at the Jones Road Ground Water Plume Superfund Site Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Houston. The area was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene from the former Bell Dry Cleaners located at the shopping center. Photo: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

On a recent weekday, workers in the Cypress Centre in northwest Harris County prepared food, worked on cars and groomed dogs. Across the parking lot, two men in orange safety vests sat in plastic chairs beside a white pickup and took water samples.

The contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency were testing some of the wells surrounding the site of a former dry cleaning business that was found to have contaminated the groundwater underneath. They repeat the process every six months to monitor the progress of clean-up efforts at the polluted nondescript site in a corner of Jones Road strip mall.

To varying degrees, federal and state environmental agencies have been working to improve conditions at what is officially known as the Jones Road Ground Water Plume since it was first identified nearly 20 years ago.

The continuous monitoring will give federal environmental officials a better idea of what’s going on and help determine the next steps, said Raji Josiam, remedial project manager for EPA Region 6. “Our main thing is that we don’t want any exposures, we want to keep it safe.”

Based on the monitoring that the federal environmental agency has done, she said, “we don’t know of any exposure right now.”

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Judge rules in favor of Harris County in Exxon case

A district court judge ruled Friday that a lawsuit brought by Harris County against Exxon Mobil can proceed, a win for county leaders who have stepped up environmental enforcement efforts.

“Overall, I think the court recognized that local governments have a role in these lawsuits and that needs to be maintained,” Rock Owens, special assistant Harris County Attorney for environmental matters, said after the ruling.

The office of Attorney General Ken Paxton could not be reached for comment, but Owens said the state’s attorneys will appeal.

The case was the first legal test for an April order by Commissioners Court that allows the county attorney’s office to file some environmental lawsuits without first having to get the approval of commissioners on a case-by-case basis.

Harris County filed a lawsuit against Exxon on Aug. 1, a day after a chemical fire at its Baytown facility injured 37.

The state’s attorney general filed its own lawsuit four days later, and in November took Harris County to court, arguing that its lawsuit should be dismissed because it needed to have explicit approval from county commissioners prior to being filed.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Company withdraws application to build concrete batch plant in Houston neighborhood

Soto Ready Mix’s site is shown from the yard of Donna and David Williams. Residents in the Acres Homes neighborhood have been fighting the concrete company’s proposal to build a batch plant at the site for nearly two years. On Wednesday, the company withdrew its application. Photo: Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

In a win for residents, a concrete company will end its efforts to gain an environmental permit to build a concrete mixing plant in northwest Houston neighborhood — just one day before an administrative judge was set to hear arguments from the community against the plant.

Soto Ready Mix, a small Houston company, had planned to build the plant near homes and a park in Acres Homes, a historically black neighborhood. On Wednesday, however, the company’s lawyers filed a motion with the administrative judge to send the case back to the state’s environmental agency, so that the company could withdraw its application to build the plant.

Soto Ready Mix sought an air emissions permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency, to build a batch plant, where concrete is mixed. For nearly two years, residents fought the permit for the plant, which they said would release particulates harmful to human health into the air. The prospect of a concrete plant in the neighborhood had already hurt property values, residents said.

TCEQ granted a hearing to the residents, allowing them to argue their case before a state administrative judge. That hearing, scheduled for Thursday, was canceled.

The permit had become a test of the environmental permitting process in the state for advocates. Often, communities are unaware or unable to amass the resources needed to stop a company from obtaining one of the state’s environmental permits.

But in Acres Homes, residents have engaged in the permitting process, tirelessly rallying politicians and pressuring regulators to host several public meetings.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

City of South Houston to continue testing for mercury in waters downstream of plant

Roseanne Peters stands by Berry Bayou near the City of South Houston in a photo taken during the summer of 2019. She’s among a group of neighbors who fought to keep the city’s requirement to test for mercury every week at its wastewater treatment plant. The city agreed in January 2010 to continue monitoring and testing for mercury on a weekly basis, using a less-sensitive test than previously required. Photo: Perla Trevizo / Houston Chronicle

The city of South Houston will continue testing for mercury after a group of community members objected to its plans to discontinue a practice that city officials had said was not needed.

Under the agreement, approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the city will continue monitoring and testing for mercury on a weekly basis, using a less-sensitive test than previously required. But the use of less-stringent detection levels will be contingent on results not showing levels of mercury above a predetermined mercury level six times over the life of the permit, or three times in a row. The reports will be sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and, if there are any issues, to the community and legal groups representing them as well.

The move will cost the city $1,300 a year as opposed to the $12,000 it was paying for the previous testing, according to the city.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.