Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

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

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

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:

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."

Read More Show Less
Dicamba is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states. A farmer in Mississippi County, Arkansas looks at rows of soybean plants affected by dicamba. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.

Read More Show Less
A bushfire burns outside the Perth Cricket Stadium in Perth, Australia on Dec. 13, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP via Getty Images

By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Read More Show Less

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less