Plants like this have led to health issues for residents who live nearby.

For a less affluent person of color in Houston, life can represent the most extreme version of a Catch-22.

From Fifth Ward to Third Ward, and even to Galena Park, Texas, many residents love their communities because that’s where their friends are.

That’s where their families, jobs, churches and more are.

And that’s often where affordable housing is or homes that have been in their families for generations.

However, because of less expensive land, no zoning and outright racism and discrimination, that is also where a lot of toxic pollutants can be found from local rock companies and other industries like oil and gas companies.

Juan Flores, Community Air Monitoring Program Manager at Air Alliance Houston, lives in Galena Park, Texas, a small city dealing with a pollution problem.

Flores told Houston’s ethnic media leaders, “In Galena Park, we have our own city government. So, even though we’re surrounded by Houston on all sides, we have our own government.

“We love our city. We’re a small town. We all know each other. Crime is low. We have our own fire department. Fire department gets here quick. We love our community.

“But at the same time, we have to constantly be fighting because of the pollution we face on a daily basis.”

The community air monitoring program manager notices apathy from the company employees when they complain about the air quality.

Flores said that some of the employees say that they are exposed to the toxic air in Galena Park too and they are O.K.

However, he said that the employees work six to seven hours per day and then they go home.

Flores, his family and many others have homes in Galena Park.

Therefore, they get exposed to the toxic air daily.

And the fact that so much toxic air exists in less affluent neighborhoods, life expectancy has decreased significantly in those areas.

Kashmere Gardens, located in northeast Houston, has over six concrete batch plants.

There are plans for another concrete batch planned near LBJ Hospital, which treats 80,000 patients per year.

Life expectancy in Fifth Ward, which includes Kashmere Gardens, is 20 years less than it is in the Houston suburb of Bellaire, Texas, home to many professional doctors, lawyers and athletes.

While the residents, activists from Air Alliance Houston and politicians often speak out, the noise from large corporations often drown out their pleas for help.

Furthermore, many residents of the communities adversely impacted by the toxic air do not understand the terminology.

Therefore, many find it difficult to express what they are enduring because of the pollution.

Many of Houston’s ethnic media company executives took a tour of neighborhoods in the Greater Houston area adversely impacted by toxic air, which are causing many health problems in residents of all ages.

Much of the toxic air in these affected areas come from criteria air matter, which include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone and carbon monoxide.

The sources for much of the toxic air in Greater Houston area include a variety of petrochemical plants, chemical storage facilities and traffic emissions.

Residents of Baytown, Texas and Deer Park, Texas endure the biggest health impacts in the form of exorbitant death rates because of PM2.5 pollution from Harris County, Texas’ largest emitters.

Many asthma hospitalizations have resulted from the magnitude of NOX and SO2 pollution from these facilities and plants.

Thankfully, four Houston area communities, that are predominantly minority, recently netted a $500,000 EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) pollution grant to address the problem.

The grant money will go towards air quality tests and education in the Pleasantville and Sunnyside neighborhoods, amongst others like Galena Park, Texas.

Pleasantville is Houston’s first planned African-American community.

The neighborhood is located inside the northeast corner of the 610 Loop.

The neighborhood now consists of approximately 4,000 residents.

Most of the residents (98 percent) are African-American or Hispanic.

Resident Marsha Lister said, “A lot of people in this community have died of cancer, and we don’t know why. We live in a box. We are surrounded by industry. We’re surrounded by chemical plants. We’re surrounded by the freeway—pollutants from trucks.”

Although the residents have a lot of pollutants, they also have a lot of drive and determination to protect the health of their neighbors.

That determination to be heard did not go unnoticed with the grant money coming into the community.

Lister added, “We’re like the little wagon that makes all the noise. We just keep marching, and we won’t stop.”

Houston Health Department Chief Environmental Officer Loren Hopkins said, “In terms of the whole United States, this community and the ones surrounding it, but specifically Pleasantville, is in the 99th percentile of the absolute worst cancer risk from toxin exposure. Ethylene oxide is actually the biggest cancer driver here in this community, and we do not have one single measure of ethylene oxide. They will be the first to measure it.”

Measuring the pollutants will not solve all the problems.

But many residents and advocates hope that they could influence change when it comes to holding companies accountable.

Despite the good news concerning the grant, the damage might be already done for longtime residents.

Cleophus Sharp, who was born in Pleasantville, said, “So we know what’s slowly killing us. I just gotta say it how it is. Because if I hadn’t got out of Pleasantville, I don’t think I would be alive because the air quality was so bad.”

Todd A. Smith
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