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Port Arthur suffers health problems

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LEAD-IN BY HOST JACKSON ALLERS: Port Arthur residents are fighting the industries that have polluted their community for years. David Stiles reports:

STORY: There are two sides to Port Arthur. The east side is more affluent and located some distance from the plants.

The west side is home to about 4000 residents 98% African American surrounded by plants that emit some of the higest levels of air pollution in the nation.

State highways, natural gas and crude oil pipelines criss cross what locals call Gasoline Alley.

The west side is surrounded by three of the nation's largest petrochemical plants. In some parts of the community refineries are no more than thirty yards from homes.

And Where there are petrochemical plants there is pollution.

On average, two to three times a month there is what local industry and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission call an "upset" at a refinery.

An upset is a release of pollution far in excess of what the law allows.

And where there is an upset the Southeast Texas Bucket Brigade is there to document it.

Hilton Kelley, a Port Arthur resident and member of the Bucket Brigade uses a plastic bucket to take air samples when there is an upset at one of the plants.

"well basically you and I could be sitting here like we are now and all of a sudden you just start to smell an odor of rotten eggs or a strong chemical smell or lets just say you go outside just for a minute to walk to the store or get in the car and you'll be consumed by this odor that's usually when we know;we get no warning over the television"

Last Tuesday, Nick Lampson, the USHOUSE Representative for Port Arthur met with Bucket Brigade volunteers and local residents. Many of the local residents spoke about pollution related health problems

Nick Lampson who sits on the US House transportation and infrastructure committee as and the Science Committee in the house when asked what it is he is going to do had this to say,

"Again its all request I don't have any idea about whats involved as far as their policy about assigning people or anything else"

Rev Malveaux, a bucket brigade volunteer says that the money industries spend contesting citations could fund other projects,

"They could look at this and cut their liabilities they sepnd a laot of money fighiting permits and if there were no people in harms way they wouldn't have to fight permits.

Anytime that a refinery opens a new facility, the refinery must aquire a pollution permit. The permit specifies how much pollution the facility may release into the air.

Petrochemical refineries like Premcor located in Port Arthur are the largest source of Volatile Organic Compounds, and benzene, both of which cause cancer.

Premcor has routnely violated its current permit. For example on janurary 1 2001 Premcor had an 'upset' that lasted seven days, releasing volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide all hazardous to human health.

The Bucket Brigade has provided many examples of permit violations but enforcement from the EPA and the Texas Natrual Resource Conservation Commission is lax.

Kelly explains:

"Because its really really hard to monitor and a lot of times when these emissions start to be emittied into our air and they come out and actually get a chance to start mmonitoring with their equipment from tnrcc well a lot of the emissions have passed already."

There are no EPA or TNRCC montiors in Port Arthur and without the Bucket Brigade violations would most likely go unrreported.

The Bucket Brigade has succeded in stopping the state from issuing a permit for a new facility at the Premcor plant.

Industries say that opposition to a facility's permit may force the refineries to close and the community would lose jobs.

For about fifty years Premcor has operated an expanding refinery complex next to Port Arthur. Until the 1970s provided employment for west Port Arthur. Now less than 1% of west Port Arthur residents work at the refinery.

Hilton Kelley came back to Port Arthur, his home, ten years ago, he looked up his old friends.

Rev Malveaux, had this to say about kelley's return,

"He asked what happened to port arthur? this used to be my home. what happened to all the businesses? they've shut down. where all the people? And he started chenking about all his friends and found they're all dead and dying of cancer"

Industry says that there is no link between pollution and cancer rates in west Port Arthur.

The University of Texas Medical Branch estimates that one in two men and one in three women will get cancer in west port arthur.

Kelley:

"I know so many people that haved ided from cancer I know so many peple with asthma tt this time."

Industry also says that they will have to reduce capacity and production if they are forced to install pollution controls

According to the EPA, Energy production and refinery capacity in the US was at its peak when enforcement of emmisions regulations was also at its peak.

Michelle, a former epa employee explains:

"These settlements did not put the refineires out of business, they did not reduce capacity and as kelley mentions the contrary after the enformcement actions occurred the capacity production at these facilities went up."

Residents demanded that industry pay for the damage that they have caused and cease illegal emissions by installing pollution controls,

Local residents want to know why this has been going on for so many years. Reverend Malveaux explains,

"These refinery complexes are not located in predominatley african american neighborhoods and people of color and poor people's neighorhoods because it was an accident."

Hilton Kelley says that west Port Arthur was once a thriving community and because of pollution people that have the ability are leaving

[kelley]

"So all these lots were looking at now even over here this was once all homes on this side of us now you can see there is nothing there but a big open field."

Even with the high cancer rates, constant violations, and industry refusing to take responsibility Activists here are optimistic

[Rev Malveaux]

"Basically I'm just gonna keep doing what I'm doing until the day that I die."

E-mail David Stiles at stiles138@yahoo.com . ,