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EPA Hearing Reveals Health Impacts of Refineries

Chrisangel Nieto, 3, rides his tricycle in Hartman Park, the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas.

Chrisangel Nieto, 3, rides his tricycle in Hartman Park, the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas. The Valero refinery looms in the background and releases over 114,000 lbs. of toxic air pollutants annually. Some of the highest levels of benzene and 1,3-butadiene emissions in the nation have been found in this community. Children like Chrisangel, who live in this area, have a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than children who live elsewhere, according to researchers from the University of Texas’s School of Public Health. Exposure to benzene and 1,3-butadiene is known to cause leukemia.

Eric Kayne / Earthjustice

The EPA held a second public hearing Tuesday in Houston, regarding its proposed rule on oil refinery emissions—and the testimony was dramatic from people living near the refineries who suffer from exposure to those emissions. Testimony ranged from bipartisan congressmen and industry representatives to environmental organizations and fenceline community members from Texas, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

The morning began with testimony from Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) who expressed his disappointment that the EPA is spending taxpayer dollars to create a rule that has unjustifiable results, because he claims the public is already protected under adequate rules. These statements are in stark contrast to the testimony from community members who live on the other side of the fenceline from oil refineries.

Theresa Landrum, a cancer survivor who lives in the shadow of the Marathon Refinery in Detroit, Michigan, stressed how important it is to put a human face on the suffering caused by these oil refineries, as those living in these communities are afflicted with cancer, chemical burns, and grief from the loss of loved ones.

Yudith Nieto, a resident of Marathon Park, Texas, which is surrounded by refineries on all four sides, echoed this sentiment when she reminded the EPA of how important this rule is because, “There are humans involved, and that we are not secondary to industry investments.”

A large number of environmental groups were in attendance, including Air Alliance Houston, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, TEJAS Barrios, Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, and Earthjustice, to name just a few. This strong showing of support for the refineries rule was characterized perfectly when Earthjustice’s own Lisa Garcia said:

“When people show up on a Tuesday during the day, and so many people take the time out of their daily routine, you know the issue is important. The EPA needs to come through for these people.”

This hearing shows that the awful health impacts suffered by those living in these fenceline communities, especially children, are growing worse. It is essential that the EPA step in to protect these communities by standing firm and creating a strong rule to limit hazardous pollutants from refineries.

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