Quantcast
Climate
Hurricane Harvey wrecks Valero gas station. Texas Military Department/Flickr

'Unseen Dangers' of Harvey: Petrochemical Plants Release 1 Million Pounds of Harmful Air Pollution

As some of the nation's largest crude processors and refineries shut down their facilities amid " unprecedented" rainfall and flooding from Harvey, residents nearby are reporting noxious, gaseous smells clouding the air.

"I've been smelling them all night and off and on this morning," Bryan Parras, from the environmental justice group TEJAS, told New Republic on Sunday.


Some locals are also experiencing "headaches, sore throat, scratchy throat and itchy eyes," Parras added.

Paris said that the chemical-like smells emanate from Houston's East End and are particularly strong in communities nearby the petrochemical plants. Problem is, the fence-line community cannot leave or evacuate as they are surrounded by devastating flooding, "so they are literally getting gassed by these chemicals," he said.

The source of the smell is likely caused by the abrupt shutdown of ExxonMobil, Petrobras, Shell, Chevron Phillips and other petrochemical facilities in the wake of Harvey's historic flooding, reports suggest.

A 2012 analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project found that "upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems."

Initial reports from Texas regulators indicate that more than 1 million pounds of harmful air pollution have been released into the air due to the closures, the Environmental Defense Fund noted in a blog post.

Furthermore, Chevron Phillips has already reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that it expects to exceed permitted limits for pollutants such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene during shutdown procedures.

"Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm," said EDF senior health scientist Dr. Elena Craft. "Poor air quality puts the most vulnerable among us, like children and seniors, at risk for asthma, heart attacks, strokes and other health problems."

Meanwhile, TCEQ has shuttered its air quality monitors in the Houston area to avoid water and wind damage from the storm, which leaves these plants and refineries to the "honor system" to report whatever gets emitted, the Houston Press points out.

Manchester resident Nayeli Olmos, who lives close to a Valero Refinery, noticed gas-like smells Saturday night when she stepped outside her house.

"We figured it would go away on its own, but this morning it was still here, and it feels like whenever it rains the odor gets stronger," Olmos told Houston Press. "Our neighbors were all talking about it and then I saw people from different neighborhoods talking about it on social media. That's when I realized it's not just us this time. It's all over East Houston."

Stephanie Thomas, from the nonprofit Public Citizen, also told the publication that the air "smelled like burnt rubber with a hint of something metallic thrown in" in the Second Ward near downtown Houston.

Here are some tweets relating to Houston's chemical stench:

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Food

18 Cookbooks for Building a Diverse and Just Food System

By Danielle Nierenberg and Natalie Quathamer

For a delicious end to 2018, Food Tank is highlighting 18 cookbooks that embrace a diverse global food industry. The list features chefs of color and authors that identify as LGBTQ+ working to feed a food revolution that breaks the barriers of race, gender, and sexuality. These books examine everything from building Puerto Rican flavors, conquering the art of transforming leftovers into masterpieces, and grasping what merging queer culture and international cuisine looks—and tastes—like. Whether you cook seasonally, are on a budget, or eat plant-based, there's something here to inspire every reader to diversify their diet!

Keep reading... Show less
Fracking
A protester outside the site where fracking restarted in the UK in October. OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty Images

UK Fracking Paused Again After Largest Quake Yet

It would appear that the resurgence of fracking in the UK is on very shaky ground. A company called Cuadrilla restarted the controversial technique at a site in Lancashire, in Northwest England, just two months ago after a seven year hiatus. But it spent a month of that time doing tests with smaller volumes of water after a series of small earthquakes in October, The Guardian reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A reindeer in Sweden. Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd) / GNU Free Documentation License

Reindeer Numbers Have Fallen by More than Half in 2 Decades

It's a sad Christmas for the world's reindeer—the antlered Arctic grazers associated with all things Santa Claus. Their numbers have fallen by more than half in the past 20 years, and climate change is likely to blame.

The latest numbers come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2018 Arctic Report Card, which listed the increasing impacts of global warming on the earth's northernmost region, as EcoWatch has already reported. But the loss of Rangifer tarandus—called caribou in North America and Greenland and reindeer in Siberia and Europe—is of note because it threatens to further throw Arctic ecosystems and cultures out of whack. Reindeer are important prey for wolves and biting flies, and a key source of food and clothing for indigenous groups.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Mackinac Bridge from Straits of Mackinac. Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Gov. Signs Bill to Keep Line 5 Pipeline Flowing

Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.

The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
The illegal La Pampa gold mine, seen here in 2017, has devastated the Peruvian Amazon and spread poisonous mercury. Planet Labs

Unprecedented New Map Unveils Illegal Mining Destroying Amazon

A first-of-its-kind map has unveiled widespread environmental damage and contamination of the Amazon rainforest caused by the rise illegal mining.

The survey, released Monday by the Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG), identifies at least 2,312 sites and 245 areas of prospecting or extraction of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan in six Amazonian countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also identified 30 rivers affected by mining and related activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017. Lewis Pugh

Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Marine Conservation Efforts

By Rick Stafford

Just over three years ago, I was clinging to a rock in 20 meters of water, trying to stop the current from pulling me out to sea. I peered out into the gloom of the Pacific. Suddenly, three big dark shapes came into view, moving in a jerky, yet somehow smooth and majestic manner. I looked directly into the left eyes of hammerhead sharks as they swam past, maybe 10 meters from me. I could see the gill slits, the brown skin. But most of all, what struck me was just how big these animals are—far from the biggest sharks in the seas, but incredibly powerfully built and solid. These are truly magnificent creatures.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Sen. Joe Manchin and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts held a press conference on Oct. 3, 2017. Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call

Coal-Friendly Manchin Named Top Dem on Senate Energy Panel

After weeks of discord over the potential appointment, Sen. Joe Manchin, the pro-coal Democrat of West Virginia, was named the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday.

Many Democrats and environmental groups were adamantly opposed to Manchin serving as the top Democrat on the committee that oversees policies on climate change, public lands and fossil fuel production.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Hikers on the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffin Park, Calif. while a brush fire burned in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!