Petro Metro: A Toxic Tour of Houston from Refineries to Superfund Sites in Wake of Harvey
By Democracy Now! - with thanks to Bella_Fantasia
Thursday, Sep 7, 2017
In Texas, the devastation from Hurricane Harvey continues. At least 63 people have died, more than 40,000 homes have been lost, and as many 1 million cars have been destroyed. Meanwhile, the long-term environmental impact of the storm is just beginning to be felt. The Center for Biological Diversity reports flooded oil refineries and chemical plants released as much as 5 million pounds of pollutants into the air during the storm. On Friday night, another large fire broke out at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Then, on Sunday, authorities set fire to six remaining containers of chemicals in what was described as a controlled burn. The company continues to refuse to inform local residents of what chemicals burned at the site. For more, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Renée Feltz and Hany Massoud take a "toxic tour" of Houston's fenceline communities, led by environmental justice organizer Bryan Parras.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Texas, where the death toll continues to rise from Hurricane Harvey. At least 63 people have now died in the unprecedented flooding. The damage caused by the storm is staggering. More than 40,000 homes have been lost, as many as a million cars destroyed. Meanwhile, the long-term environmental impact of the storm is just beginning to be felt. The Center for Biological Diversity reports flooded oil refineries and chemical plants released as much as 5 million pounds of pollutants into the air during the storm. On Friday night, another large fire broke out at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Then, on Sunday, authorities set fire to six remaining containers of chemicals in what was described as a controlled burn. The company continues to refuse to inform local residents what chemicals burned at the site.
Well, this weekend, Democracy Now! headed to Texas. I went there with Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz and Hany Massoud—both are from Houston. We went to get a closer look at the environmental and public health impact of Hurricane Harvey and related flooding. Houston, the Petro Metro, is home to a quarter of the petroleum refining capacity in the United States; include the entire Gulf Coast, and the percentage increases to half. Some of the major refineries in the region are run by ExxonMobil, Valero and the Saudi-owned Motiva. This weekend, we took a "toxic tour" of the facilities along the Houston Ship Channel, where plants spewed toxins into the air of nearby neighborhoods, so often poor communities of color. Our guide was Bryan Parras, organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign and t.e.j.a.s., Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.
Our visit came as the number of people who have died from Harvey rose to at least 63, including the first reported death of a volunteer rescuer, who was also a recipient of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The body of Alonso Guillén was found Friday, after he disappeared Wednesday when his boat hit a bridge and capsized. His mother told the Houston Chronicle she tried to come from Mexico to the U.S. to bury her son but was turned away by Border Patrol agents. She said, "When we are with God, there are no borders."
As we begin our toxic tour in Houston, we stop by a fundraiser that was set up to pay for the funerals of four undocumented rescue volunteers who were killed when their small boat was swept away by churning floodwaters last Monday and ran into downed power lines. They were electrocuted—brothers Yahir Vizueth and Benjamin Vizueth, their uncle Gustavo Rodríguez-Hernández and their friend Jorge Pérez, electrocuted when they fell into the water. Another brother, José, survived, along with two British Daily Mail journalists who were also on the boat to document the rescue missions. All of them suffered severe burns. They clung to trees until they were discovered the next day, some 18 hours later. At Sunday’s fundraiser, we spoke to family member Stepheny Jacquez.
STEPHENY JACQUEZ: On Monday, around 3 p.m.—well, started that morning—they were out rescuing people, a group of five men. They went out on a different part of town to save families affected. There wasn’t enough, you know, boats on the water. They had a boat. They said, "Why not? We can help. We want to help." They saved a total of seven people, two families.
Then they heard that on the east side of town, towards Normandy and Wallisville, it was getting flooded horribly. So they said, "Well, now we’re heading that way to see what we can do and how we can help." On the way over there, they were trying to cross a bayou, and they lost control of the boat. I’m not exactly sure the details, but they lost control, of what we’ve heard, and wrecked with an electricity pole. They had to jump out of the boat. And when they jumped in the water, they all got electrocuted. Three of them were saved the next day at 11 in the morning.
AMY GOODMAN: And those three were the—José, the brother—
STEPHENY JACQUEZ: José Vizueth was saved. Two reporters from the Daily News U.K. were also saved.
AMY GOODMAN: Daily Mail?
STEPHENY JACQUEZ: Daily Mail. They were saved. They were also on the boat. Within the next day or so, we heard news of Yahir being found, one of the other brothers, one of the three brothers on the boat. Jorge was also found. And we were still missing two. They were found on Thursday. We took it upon ourselves. We gathered a search group, the family. There was around a hundred people in that search. Around 3 p.m., we found Gustavo behind a neighborhood. And the search continued. We were still missing one more, and he was found by boat.
ELIZABETH BARNABY: Hi. My name is Elizabeth Barnaby. These four guys were undocumented. You know, they didn’t have papers. That’s true. And they didn’t care. They still risked their lives, and they saved a lot of lives.
RENÉE FELTZ: So, we’re going to leave this fundraiser and get back in a car and head out on our toxic tour with Bryan Parras.
BRYAN PARRAS: So there are some relatives that are undocumented. And, you know, we’re fearful of any attention that they would draw to themselves by asking for help. And we’re in Texas. You know, people are very proud, don’t like to ask for help. But we need it. We all need it right now. Yeah, so, we’re in Denver Harbor right now, and it’s just north of Buffalo Bayou.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to continue from here, from this just terrible story of four young—four heroes who were killed as they were trying to save people, for you to take us on this toxic tour of Houston.
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. I mean, you know, this isn’t normally a stop. You know, I think this is emblematic of the very, very strong part of these neighborhoods.
We’re just driving on 610, and this is the on-ramp. We’re going north right now. And what you’re looking at is Manchester. This is the beginning of the Petro Metro, Amy. You know, this goes on for 30-plus miles, all the way to Galveston Bay, and then it even wraps around Galveston Bay to Texas City and then to Baytown, another, you know, onwards to Port Arthur, Beaumont.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what’s happened to this industry in the midst of Harvey?
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. So, a lot of these plants had to go into emergency shutdown prior to the storm coming. And that’s a precautionary move, but it’s one that they know is going to happen, particularly if a hurricane is coming. And over the years, they’ve done nothing, you know, to prevent the toxic release of the chemicals that are sent out while these shutdowns are happening.
AMY GOODMAN: This area didn’t get flooded?
BRYAN PARRAS: This area, I don’t believe, got flooded. Yeah, it was OK. But the smells from all of the burn-off from many, many refineries is something that they had to contend with. And it’s something, you know, I could smell, even two miles from here.
[Democracy Now! Note: On Monday, August 28, 2017 the tejas team documented that Manchester was affected by high floodwaters. Flood waters were also documented running from the Valero facility into the neighborhood and Hartman park.]
This is Westway, yeah, and these are storage tanks. And I’m not sure what they have in here, you know? A lot of times it’s really hard to know what these facilities are doing. As we saw with the Crosby situation, they oftentimes claim that because of terroristic threats, it’s better to not inform the community. Yeah, we have folks who don’t really know what all of the threats are. And throughout the day, you know, they have to hear alarms and bells, and things go off that worry them. You know, they cause undue stress and anxiety.
We just passed by a house completely surrounded by tanks. And across the street is Hartman Park. And this is the only green space for the neighborhood here. And so, across from the park, literally, one street, is Valero, Valero refining.
So I’m going to stop here. And this is a friend of ours. Yudith Nieto’s grandmother lives here. And during the storm, I was getting messages from her aunt, because they were really concerned about the Crosby plant and how that might affect things here. And, of course, they were having to deal with the toxic fumes, as well. So I promised I would bring them some masks.
AMY GOODMAN: The smell here is pretty intense.
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah, this is—this is every day, too. And this isn’t even as bad as it gets. You know, it’s intense. Yeah, and this is why I said, Amy, you know, this is the everyday poison that people have to breathe.
AMY GOODMAN: Is this every day, the smell in the air?
MARIA NIETO: [translated] Yeah, it’s very normal. Lately, they’ve been feeling it more so with the—in the nose, and the eyes get teary. It’s very normal for that type of reaction to occur with them. So they usually wear store-bought masks that are not necessarily as prepared for this type of exposure.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they warn you when they closed this plant down that more toxins would be going into the air?
MAURO NIETO: No.
MARIA NIETO: [translated] No one from the refineries or the spaces have told them. They found out during the TVs that they watch and family members that are on the lookout and let them know.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you just delivered masks to the Nietos in the shadow of Valero, this massive plant here in Houston.
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. You know, it’s shameful and really, really upsetting to think that families who live here have to make modifications and change the way they live, to shelter in place in your own home, Amy, to have masks on hand and to have painful reactions to just breathing, you know, the itchy eyes, the throats, the headaches, and that that’s an everyday experience.
RENÉE FELTZ: We’re going to exit our car here and approach some men who look like they’re working on fuel pipes that go over a bridge.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going down to where they’re fixing the bridge and pipelines right around these facilities. Hi. You guys working on the pipeline or the bridge?
PIPELINE WORKER 1: The pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: The pipeline. Getting it ready to go back online?
PIPELINE WORKER 1: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it look like. What kind of damage did it have?
PIPELINE WORKER 1: Just real minimal, but we can’t comment.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened? What was the damage?
PIPELINE WORKER 1: We really can’t comment. I apologize. It was all from the storm, though.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.
PIPELINE WORKER 2: Storm water.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what role do you think climate change has to do with all of this?
PIPELINE WORKER 3: How much we sweat.
PIPELINE WORKER 1: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that would be a good place to start, to start dealing with?
PIPELINE WORKER 3: Nah. Save your money.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you guys working for Valero?
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: No, for—we’ve been a contractor for Enterpipe, and we’re working with some job for Enterprise.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s wrong with the pipeline? What happened?
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: Oh, well, just the water goes too high, and we moved the pipe over with the—over the—this pipe, we’ve got to set up. We move it over, and we’re trying to put it back in place.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, because the water pushed it over?
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I see.
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Are they going to be able to turn back the pipe—turn the pipelines back on soon?
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: Oh, yeah, pretty soon, maybe in an hour or two. We’re going to be—
AMY GOODMAN: In an hour or two?
ENTERPIPE CONTRACTOR: In an hour or two, we’re going to be the same like it is before.
RENÉE FELTZ: We’ve heard that the factories and the refineries you’re showing us shut down, and that was dangerous, but now they’re starting it back up. Is that also dangerous?
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. The same thing that happened during the shutdown is going to happen again during the startup. And I don’t know how long that startup process lasts. But if you can imagine all of the liquids that are in the pipes that feed into the facilities, you know, all that’s going to have to get turned back on, and it’s going to take a good while for, you know, the system to be properly sort of running as it normally does. A lot of these facilities are not meant to ever stop. They just keep going. And so, that’s what causes, you know, the dirty burns and the problems—not to think that it’s safe at all when it’s running, you know, normally. It’s still putting toxins into the air. But when these other events, shutdowns and startups, happen, it’s even worse.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bryan Parras of the [Beyond] Dirty Fuels campaign of Sierra Club, taking us on our toxic tour of the Houston Ship Channel, which continues in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Texas Flood" as performed by the Texas blues musician Stevie Ray Vaughan. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we continue with our toxic tour of Houston, the Petro Metro, home to a quarter of the petroleum refining capacity in the United States. I was in Houston this weekend our Democracy Now! colleagues Hany Massoud and Renée Feltz, both Texan natives. Our guide was Bryan Parras, organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign and t.e.j.a.s., Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.
BRYAN PARRAS: We’re on our way to Baytown. Baytown is home to Exxon, you know, a very, very old plant. It’s the second-largest refinery Exxon has. And it was inundated with water during the storm. It may still be. I haven’t been there yet. But they had some massive flares that were documented by USA Today, and burning these chemicals that we were just talking about, you know, during their shutdown process.
AMY GOODMAN: And did the EPA give them waivers to burn all this out or all these companies to release toxins?
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah. So, normally, in a regular situation, you know, they would be limited in how long they could flare. In this case, the EPA gave them a waiver so that there were no penalties for exceeding those time limits.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re looking at a sign that says "Kinder Morgan. Warning! Gas pipeline crossing."
BRYAN PARRAS: And just, you know, 20 feet behind it is someone’s home. You know, someone lives right here.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s not much regulation in Texas, is there?
BRYAN PARRAS: This is what people look at when they say there’s no zoning. These are the sorts of situations that happen. And just—we just drove by new pipelines, which makes me think that there have been some breaches, some leaks, something, you know, or else why are these pipelines here? It looks like they’re going to do some repair jobs right here in this person’s backyard.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re standing in front of a Motiva plant. Motiva is run by Aramco of Saudi Arabia. It’s the largest oil refinery in the country, right here in Houston, Texas. Right behind us is a warning sign for a pipeline that says Energy Transfer Partners. Energy Transfer Partners built the Dakota Access pipeline. We just passed pipelines or equipment for Kinder Morgan, Motiva, the largest oil refinery here, Energy Transfer Partners, which makes the Dakota Access pipeline, all within a few yards of each other.
BRYAN PARRAS: This is the concentration that exists here.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, directly next to a neighborhood.
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah, and this is another predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. This is the definition of a fenceline community.
AMY GOODMAN: As opposed to a front line?
BRYAN PARRAS: As opposed to a front line. So, look, here’s a nice little flare. And so, yeah, there’s a distinction, right? When folks say "front-line communities," of course, there are a lot of people who live near different toxic sites, but a fenceline community is literally bordered by these facilities, like you see here. And it’s not just what you see above ground; it’s the many pipelines that are underneath the ground. And there have been studies done here to point out that the pipelines are also leaking benzene from the ground. So you’re getting rained on from above, and you’re also getting gassed from below. There’s no escape.
We’re riding over the Hartman Bridge, and below us is the Houston Ship Channel, and it empties out into Galveston Bay to our right. And to our left is ExxonMobil, the second-largest refinery in the country. And this is a plant that was inundated with water. And we’re coming to check it out, because we just heard that it’s coming back online.
AMY GOODMAN: As we’re going around on this toxic tour to the ExxonMobil refinery here in Baytown, Bryan Parras and Crystal Ibarra stopped at the local church to deliver them some food and some clothes.
Can you tell us your name and the church?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: My name is Pastor Carlos Caban from Templo Emanuel here at 1328 Cherry Street, Baytown, Texas. We did get hit hard. I mean, we—instead of crying, we are helping. And as you guys bring help, that’s how—that’s how it goes, you know? And it’s not easy. You know, this is a real low-income community. This house is like—water was up to here, to the taillight of your vehicle. And they’re still living in there. And they’re afraid of coming and getting help. Like—
BRYAN PARRAS: I didn’t see a lot of furniture out in the streets.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Not in this community, because they’re a low-income community. So—
BRYAN PARRAS: So, they’re—even though it got wet, they’re—
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: I had a lady that, this morning, on service, I had to tell her, beg her, "Please, I’ll get some rescue guys to go in there." She goes, "That’s all I have. If I throw it out, why am I living?" I said, "Well, I’d rather you not live in there. You’ve got to choose which one: live in there or, honestly, die from cancer." You know, the molds are turning black already.
BRYAN PARRAS: The mold? The mold’s already coming?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Why are they afraid to get help?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Well, we have different laws that are in place. Here, what we are doing is just taking names and the addresses. And some people think that, you know, immigration is going to take them. And as that happens—we tell them this is a place of refuge. This is a—this line right here divides us from the city and divides us from anything else. This is a safe haven here. You could come and be here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, a lot of people are afraid to seek help or shelter because they’re afraid they could be taken by—
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Immigration. We’ve got the SB 4 in place. That’s a big one here. I mean, I’ve gotten people who say, "I can’t give you my address or my phone number." But for me to continue getting help—you know, sometimes it’s guys like you guys that bring help. But then I’ve got cities that come back and ask for documentation and "How many people did you feed?" or "Is the truck getting to the people that need it?" And that’s one of the major things.
RENÉE FELTZ: What’s across the street?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: That’s the entrance of Exxon, Exxon refinery. So, we’re 20 feet from the refinery. And that’s what we’ve got in our backyard.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does that affect people who live here?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Man, I don’t know how to answer that one.
AMY GOODMAN: Do many of the people who live here work there?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yes and no. Yes and no. I got a lot of guys that work in there, in the refinery, as they’ve got to maintain the families, so... Right now, they’re not working, so we’re helping out. Some of them—I have a guy that is not going because the area has been flooded. And y’all know what goes with that, but at the end of the day, you know, he’s not actually working no more.
AMY GOODMAN: Do they get paid if they’re not working?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: No, no. There is guys that are contractors. As being a contractor, they don’t get paid.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s in the air and the water here?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Well, there’s chemicals. You know, there’s different chemicals that are around. I’ll give you an example. If you cross over 225, that water that looks blue is the water from the refinery, when it leaked out. So, it’s some of the stuff that is out here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the refinery is not back on?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Not yet. They haven’t turned it on. I don’t know how long they will start it back up. But right now it’s actually off, so it’s not working.
RENÉE FELTZ: Can you tell us if they explained anything when they shut it down? What was that like when they shut it down? Did they—what did they tell you?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Oh, they didn’t call nobody. They didn’t say—they didn’t say no volunteer or anything else. They just shut it down. All you can see is—well, right here, if you look right here, right behind that tree is a flare. So, as we were out here, we were getting—as we’re giving relief, you’re still getting the impact of the flares.
AMY GOODMAN: Is the flare always raging? Or was it—
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: No, just last night, and, I want to say, when the hurricane was here, the whole week, day and night.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the flare burns not all the time, but when the plant closes down?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yes. Well, no, I can’t say. When they got an upset, they do burn. So, for us, I mean, we’re in the community, you know? Where can I go?
AMY GOODMAN: How is the cancer rate here?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Oh, it’s big. It’s big. If you noticed, four years, I want to say, you take this street right up, right across the refinery, they had the—there was the city projects, were there. And they were affected by gases. And they eliminated them all completely. Exxon bought them all up.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about climate change?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Ah, yes and no. Yes and no, in the sense it’s—we are seeing the effect right now. When it comes about climate and anything else, we’re seeing it right now. I’ll give you an example. When in history have we seen a flood just like this? It has to do with climate change, and it has to do with what’s going around the world. You know, for me to live here so many years, and now, suddenly, a flood of this magnitude, I mean, even here, I mean, it’s unbearable. It’s unbearable.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the fact that the president of the United States, President Trump, denies that climate change, that the fossil fuel industry or human beings have anything to do with climate?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: We just got to look at what—what our signs are, you know, our effects. I know we pulled out of an important treaty, which is the climate.
AMY GOODMAN: The Paris climate accord.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yeah. And I think that was—that was a big mistake for us, you know, as a country. And I think we have to have rules. I think we have to have regulations.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard from Exxon since the plant shutdown, since the hurricane?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: No, ma’am. No, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: How about FEMA?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: We don’t got FEMA here.
AMY GOODMAN: Federal Emergency Management Agency.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: We don’t got them here. We, as churches, as part of the city, working with the city, we’re on our own.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Red Cross? Have they been here?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: No. We were a shelter for five days. And the city put a response together of pastors to help out. Nobody else.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is deciding on DACA, whether to end it, the DREAMers, their ability to stay and work.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: That affects me, affects me as a church, affects me—it affects us all. We’ve got people that don’t have papers, but we’ve got to protect them, too, you know? They’re human beings. Their kids grew up with us. I’m going to tell you, "Get out of here"? You know, so it’s hard. It’s hard. It hurts all of us. It hurts our economy. Sometimes we think that it’s not going to hurt our economy. And I’ve got people that are—that need our help. And they help. They work.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel forgotten here, in the shadow of the second-largest refinery in this country, in the shadow of the ExxonMobil refinery?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: I will say yeah. I will say yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: we’re here at Baytown Emanuel Temple Church. It looks out on the second-largest refinery in this country, ExxonMobil here in Baytown. People here, a number of them have lost everything, but they’re helping other people getting clothes, whatever deliveries come in. And now we’re going to just go inside, take a look. People took refuge here. And now, Pastor, you’re showing us video of ExxonMobil. Someone took drone footage. What are you looking at?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: You see the different colors of the—you see the chemicals there?
AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: That’s the chemicals.
AMY GOODMAN: This is ExxonMobil underwater.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yeah, yeah. So...
AMY GOODMAN: With the—and this is the kind of water that came to you—
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and that inundated people’s homes.
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: That would be the same, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the flares?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Oh, they were going. As you see, they’re still going on right there.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s your concern about the flares?
PASTOR CARLOS CABAN: Benzene, we know, is a carcinogen. And benzene is in your—is an additive for gasoline and for diesel. And it’s a byproduct of what the refinery does. So, I tell you, it’s one of the worst things that you can imagine.
RENÉE FELTZ: We’re leaving the church now, where we can see a flare in the distance, and we’re headed to the last stop on our toxic tour. It’s a Superfund site in the middle of the San Jacinto River.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Bryan, why don’t you tell us what this Superfund site is that we’re standing at, in the—on the edge of the Jacinto River, under an overpass? I don’t even even see any signs that say "danger."
BRYAN PARRAS: There’s one little sign over here.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what this is. Why should we be concerned?
BRYAN PARRAS: Yeah, well, this is one of the most dangerous Superfund sites here in the Houston area. It’s got dioxin, a very, very, very highly toxic substance. And it’s an underwater Superfund site, but you can kind of see the mound of rocks over in the middle of this river. And that’s where it’s nearby.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what exactly is in this Superfund site. Who built it? Why is it here? Who’s cleaning it up? And what happened during the storm to it?
BRYAN PARRAS: Well, a lot of those questions as to what’s happening, we don’t—we don’t know, because, you know, there have been articles about the EPA not being out here yet to do testing. But it’s an old paper mill waste site. They basically dumped a lot of their old waste product. And we know that paper mills, when they bleach their waters, that there’s a lot of dioxins that are the byproduct of that. And so, it’s some of the really nastiest chemical on Earth.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we see refineries in the background. Then we see the Superfund—well, we see top of it—site. And then we see these circular—what would you call these? Tanks?
BRYAN PARRAS: And, you know, something obviously hit one of them, because it’s—this one is tilted, right? And the other one looks like it’s been like ripped apart, like its outer layer has just been torn off.
AMY GOODMAN: So, has EPA been here?
BRYAN PARRAS: To my knowledge, they have not. You know, there was a report out that said they hadn’t been to any of the waste—to the Superfund sites. EPA had not been to any of the Superfund sites. EPA recently has issued some of their own press releases saying that they are monitoring all of the sites. But I don’t—I haven’t heard from anyone on the ground that has seen them. And these areas are areas where people would fish, ski, swim, you know, despite all of the industrialization of this area. It’s still a water body, and people are attracted to it, and they want to use it. You can’t swim. You can’t breathe. You can’t eat the seafood. It’s a wasteland.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just got word that the black smoke plume that we see in the background, just beyond the San Jacinto River, is the Arkema chemical plant. It makes organic peroxides. An area as wide as a mile and a half has been evacuated for days now. It looks like the plant and the local authorities have decided to do a controlled burn of the rest of the property. It’s not clear what chemicals are there, because the company has refused to release that information. That does it for our toxic tour of Houston. I’m Amy Goodman, for Democracy Now!
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