There’s no question about it: pollution from refineries, chemical plants, natural gas infrastructure and large industrial sites makes people sick, but regulators largely look the other way when big polluters break the law.
That’s why we’ve been working with our allies across the state to bring attention to major polluters that release dangerous levels of pollution into our air.
One particularly troubling example came late last month when Exxon and their subsidiaries in Andrews County self-reported millions of pounds of hydrogen sulfide released from their facility in the Means field. Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable, colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs. More than a nuisance, at low levels it can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. At moderate and higher levels, it can even cause respiratory arrest and death.
We recently sent THIS request to the EPA, asking that they investigate the ongoing releases of hydrogen sulfide from Exxon facilities in the Means field, in order to ensure that the oil and gas facilities comply with Clean Air Act requirements, and to safeguard public health.
Unfortunately, these types of major pollution events aren’t isolated. Just half way through November, facilities in Texas have already self-reported releasing at least 2,902,367 lbs. of pollution from all across the state.
And this isn’t without its health impacts. The American Lung Association’s 2014 State of the Air report awarded 19 of Texas’ largest counties with grades of F for their air quality. This is especially bad news for the 300,000 children and 700,000 adults suffering from asthma in these counties. And a 2011 study published in the journal Environmental Health reported a 56% increased risk of childhood leukemia associated with residence in census tracts close to the Houston Ship Channel, home to the nation’s largest concentration of refineries and chemical plants.
Much of this pollution comes from unauthorized emissions from refineries, chemical plants, natural gas processing sites and other industrial facilities. Major facilities in Texas frequently break the law and exceed the amount of pollution they are allowed to release based on their agreed upon permit terms.
All too often, government agencies allow these violations of Clean Air permits to go unpunished, whether from lack of political will, lack of resources or other reasons. This lax enforcement encourages facilities to continue polluting—and endangering public health—with impunity.
It’s time that the EPA take potential violations of the Clean Air Act seriously, and investigate and enforce on facilities that can’t manage to follow the law, despite our public health and environment hanging in the balance.