Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Refinery Row Residents Attend Environmental Summit

Teresa Vieria/KUT News

A view of the Flint Hills East Refinery from the Hillcrest Neighborhood in Corpus Christi

Last week the EPA and City of Corpus Christi hosted an environmental summit on pollution and refinery row, a ten-mile stretch of oil refineries at the city’s edge. Surrounded by these refineries are several “fence line” communities, where over a thousand residents live.

Families in these neighborhoods say the refineries are making them sick, and some have formed a group asking the oil companies to buy them out entirely, close down the neighborhood for good, and create a “buffer zone” between the plants and residential neighborhoods. The summit was the first dialogue between residents, government and industry on how to deal with the problems of refinery row.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that working groups were formed at the summit “on topics such as sustainable communities and colonias, environmental justice, pollution prevention and environmental health. Group leaders pledged to report back to EPA and city officials.”

The paper also says that the working groups agreed on “a need for a central, easily understood clearinghouse for the vast amount of environmental data collected by government, industry, environmental groups and other entities.”

Local news station KIII-TV did a report from the summit. Corpus Christi mayor Joe Adame told the station that the group was looking at “possibly relocating some of these people:”

Watch the video here.

The San Antonio Current spoke with EPA Region 6 Administrator Dr. Al Armendariz, who oversees the agency’s regulation and enforcement in the state. The weekly asked Dr. Armendariz if refinery row residents’ health is in danger from living so close to industry. His response was candid:

“People who live closest to these industrial facilities are certainly exposed to levels of pollution above and beyond the average person. And people who live closest to these facilities are getting doses of pollution that are unusual, and my job is to protect their public health. One of the things I’ve really done is try to focus my work and the work of my staff on improving the public health of the people that live closest to these facilities. And when it comes to proximity, it is certainly the case people get less exposure the further away they are from these major facilities. There will be less of a concern of a catastrophic release if people aren’t living so close to the fence line. Adding distance between people and industrial facilities makes common sense. It helps reduce the public health burden from the air emissions. It helps make emergency response more successful.”

Armendariz also told the Current that cumulative emissions studies are necessary for understanding the health effects of emissions from refinery row:

“There’s absolutely good science that needs to be done on cumulative emissions. EPA historically has worked on pollutants one at a time. But what we know is people, especially those that live very close to these facilities, they’re being exposed to multiple pollutants simultaneously. And so we certainly do need to do studies on how that cumulative exposure affects people. Because it could be very different than studying those pollutants one at a time. But in addition to that we certainly don’t want to study communities to death. We know it would be better if people didn’t live close to refineries. We know it would be easier when it comes to emergency response if there was more distance between facilities and people. And so at the same time that we’re doing the studies to fully understand cumulative exposure, there are some practical things I want all of us to do — the city, industry, my office, the EJ [environmental justice] community — see if we can do something collective to add some space between these facilities and these homes.”

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times attended the summit and reported on some of the group’s objectives going forward:

  • “Forming a central, easily understood repository for environmental data collected by many agencies and groups”
  • “Wind farm regulation”
  • “Water supply, especially in light of new demand from the proposed Las Brisas Energy Center”
  • “Quality of industrial water discharge into bays”
  • “How to deal with air pollution blown in from other regions”
  • “Glass recycling”
  • “Ways to study the environmental health of fence line communities, beyond just statistical analysis”
  • “Bringing environmental health professionals to these communities to ensure conditions are properly diagnosed”

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