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
Climate
Annette Bernhardt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

3 Things You Can Do to Help Avoid Climate Disaster

By Stephanie Feldstein

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire warning last week: We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to do it fast to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Jess Lundgren / CC BY 2.0

The Trump Administration’s ‘Dishonest’ Attack on Fuel-Economy Standards

By John R. Platt

The Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel-economy standards is "the most spectacular regulatory flip-flop in history," said a retired EPA engineer who helped to develop new the standards under the Obama administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Lizzie Carr traveling down the Hudson River on her stand-up paddleboard. Max Guliani / The Hudson Project

Her Stand-Up Paddleboard Is a Platform for Campaigning Against Plastic Pollution

By Patrick Rogers

Lizzie Carr was navigating a stretch of the Hudson River north of Yonkers, New York, recently when she spotted it—a hunk of plastic so large and out of place that she was momentarily at a loss to describe it.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. Michael Van Woert, NOAA

Scientists Study Ice Shelf by Listening to Its Changing Sounds

By Marlene Cimons

Researchers monitoring vibrations from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf were flabbergasted not long ago to hear something unexpected—the ice was "singing" to them. "We were stunned by a rich variety of time-varying tones that make up this newly described sort of signal," said Rick Aster, professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, one of the scientists involved in the study.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
DSLRVideo.com / Flicker / CC BY-SA 2.0

'Go Out and Vote' Patagonia Endorses Candidates For First Time in Its History

Outdoor brand Patagonia is endorsing candidates for the first time in its history in an effort to protect the country's at-risk public lands and waters.

The civic-minded retailer is backing two Democrats in two crucial Senate races: the re-election of Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Desert Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park. Kjaergaard / CC BY 3.0

Leaked Trump Administration Memo: Keep Public in Dark About How Endangered Species Decisions Are Made

In a Trump administration memorandum leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its staff to withhold, or delay releasing, certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act is carried out. That includes records where the advice of career wildlife scientists may be overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Disposable diapers add staggering amounts of waste to landfills. Pxhere

Dirty Diapers Could Be Recycled Into Fabrics, Furniture Under P&G Joint Venture

Disposal diapers can take an estimated 500 years to decompose. That means if Henry VIII wore disposables, they'd probably still be around today.

Although throwaway nappies are undoubtedly convenient, these mostly-synthetic items cause never-ending steams of waste that will take centuries to disappear.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The swelling barrier lake after a landslide forced evacuations along the Yarlung Zangbo River. YouTube screenshot / CCTV+

6,000 Evacuated After Tibet Landslide

Six thousand people have been evacuated after a landslide in Tibet Wednesday blocked a river that flows downstream into India, creating a lake that could cause major flooding in the subcontinent once the debris is cleared, The Associated Press reported.

Chinese emergency officials announced the evacuations Thursday. The landslide impacted a village in Menling County, but no one was killed or injured, Chinese officials said.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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