February 25, 2016
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(ANTIMEDIA) Houston, TX — A new study has found that a carcinogenic chemical is approaching unsafe levels in communities on Houston’s east side. Beginning in February 2015, researchers from the Houston Advanced Research Center drove around Houston’s Galena Park and Manchester neighborhoods in three vans loaded with equipment for measuring toxic vapors in the air.
“The computers then used weather data to pinpoint likely sources. The researchers say they found spikes of benzene, a chemical linked to cancer. The benzene vapors were approaching unsafe levels for short term exposure and far exceeded safe limits for long term exposure.
“The scientists say they suspected the benzene was coming from the big refineries and terminals along the Houston Ship Channel where crude oil, which contains benzene, is loaded to and from huge tanks and barges.”
Houston’s East End is home to hundreds of large refineries, which emit a heavy odor and smog around the surrounding neighborhoods. However, the researchers say they traced the source of benzene to local pipelines that carry crude oil and similar products.
“This was something of a surprise to us,” lead researcher Eduardo Olaguer told Houston Public Media. “It turned out when we superimposed a graphics based on the existing pipeline database over our findings, oh, we see these huge spikes right on top of the pipeline system.
The map of the pipelines and the benzene spikes are included in the paper published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association. Olaguer said more studies need to be conducted, but he called the research a wake-up call. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told Houston Public Media it will take a look at the study and evaluate it.
The new research further confirms the presence of heavy pollution in Houston’s East End. In June 2015, Houston Public Media reported on another study conducted by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The study found higher than expected levels of cancer in east Harris County and eastern Houston neighborhoods. The DSHS did not examine possible causes of cancer (including the local pollution or individual lifestyle choices), but studied cancer rates according to the census from 1995 to 2012.
Lisa Gossett, a professor of environmental management at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, told HPM that “establishing the existence of a cancer cluster, and then tracing it to a clear-cut carcinogen, is extremely difficult.”
Dr. Arch “Chip” Carson, an occupational medicine expert and toxicologist at the UT Health School of Public Health in Houston, also cautioned against equating correlation with causation.
“I don’t think we should jump to conclusions that these findings really mean that there are hazards associated with living in particular areas,” Carson said. “But we do need to go back and go through these data with a fine-tooth comb and figure out what the actual causes are associated with those things.”
Still, for the residents of the city’s East End neighborhoods, the answer seems dangerously obvious. The pollution from the local refineries, and possibly the local pipelines, is damaging the health of the local communities and environment.
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