Houston has a ‘hot spot’ for cancer-causing air, new report says

Houston has a ‘hot spot’ for cancer-causing air, new report says

Published Nov. 13, 2021 in chron.com
By Madalyn Mendoza

San Antonio made a national list for the wrong reasons this week. According to ProPublica, an investigative journalism publication based in New York, the Alamo City has a “hot spot” for cancer-causing air. The list was released on Thursday, November 11 and San Antonio was not the sole Texas city mentioned — Houston, Dallas, El Paso, and a slew of towns also made the list. 

The ProPublica team has been mapping out the spread of toxic air pollution across the nation for five years. They’re not leaving any stone unturned, they say they’ve measured the spread in “every” U.S. neighborhood. In their work, they’ve discovered more than 1,000 hotspots of cancer-causing air. 

The findings were shared on Twitter Thursday evening as the newsroom is attempting to build a network of sources in each city to create a foundation for reporting moving forward. The publication wants to hear from people living in the areas and asks for the public to share the list online or through passing out fliers. ProPublica says it will share its tips with local journalists in 2022. 

“We also want to answer questions to help people understand what pollution means for them,” ProPublica says. 

In the tweet thread, ProPublica clarified that a city making the list doesn’t mean the entire area has toxic air, but instead that it has a hot spot within city limits. The interactive map shows the local hot spot is near Calumet San Antonio Refining, which encompasses part of the San Antonio River, South Presa Street, and Dan Court. 

“People living in this area have at least an estimated 1 in 100,000 excess lifetime cancer risk from industrial air pollution based on a ProPublica analysis of five years of EPA modeling,” the website says. Data gathered by ProPublica shows the emissions of Benzene, Naphthalene and Ethylbenzene from the plant contributes about 99.5 percent of the excess cancer risk in the area. 

Indiana-based Calumet sold the oil refinery (the only one in city limits) to Starlight Relativity Acquisition Company in November 2019. The new owner is a Houston company operated by Allegiance, according to previous MySA reporting. Calumet, which owned the refinery during some of the mapping, was not immediately available comment. 

Allegiance says since taking over at the start of 2021 they have made the health and safety of employees and community their “top priority.” 

“Allegiance Refining has focused on investing in opportunities that improve the refinery’s environmental stewardship. Significant capital investments have been made to replace, repair, and add new process equipment and additional monitoring to improve reliability and reduce overall emissions at the refinery,” the company tells MySA.” We remain committed to being a good neighbor and steward of the environment.

Areas near Arvin Sango and Lubrizol Corp, both south of San Antonio proper, are also listed.

The San Antonio risk is substantially lower than that of places like the Union Carbide Corp Seadrift Plant in Victoria where there’s “estimated excess lifetime cancer risk from industrial sources of about 1 in 63.” The area, as well as areas in Houston, are shaded red for their increased levels of pollution. 

ProPublica’s “areas of focus” are West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Missouri, but the investigative team is still interested in speaking with people in each of the cities listed. The public can submit a tip here. 

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