Leticia Ablaza, Community Outreach Director at Air Alliance Houston and community activist
My family moved to Houston when I was eight years old, settling in the Second Ward before establishing roots near Milby High School in Pecan Park. I noticed the difference in the air quality from the moment we arrived. Sometimes the air became thick at night and smelled like paint thinner. We knew it was not normal. We could not pinpoint the source, but it was impossible to miss the towering smokestacks nearby in Manchester and along the Houston Ship Channel.
My younger siblings often complained of itchy eyes and scratchy throats, and all of us had frequent headaches. When playing outdoors during the summer, our skin became itchy and uncomfortable, and we washed off whatever was on our skin. My mother also complained of headaches and had severely itchy and watery eyes. These were symptoms she had never had while living in rural Mexico, our previous home.
As an adult, I began to research what exactly was causing our thick, smelly air and its effect on my family’s health. After my son was born with asthma, I made my children’s health my mission. I had to know why his condition would get worse when we were around certain parts of Houston. In contrast, when we visited the Mexican country ranch where I grew up, we noticed his symptoms all but disappeared.
For many people of color and low incomes, there is little to no access to healthcare. That makes it difficult to know the full extent of air pollution’s impacts on people’s health because they are not seeing doctors and nurses regularly. Although school nurses have reported an increase in asthma attacks in the East End, we have been unable to gather the medical data necessary to make a stronger case against industrial pollution in Houston.
I am thankful for the work of organizations like Air Alliance Houston, a founding member of One Breath Partnership. Air Alliance Houston is advocating to limit concrete batch plants and prevent these facilities from operating too close to schools and parks to protect children's health. Unfortunately, no organization can single-handedly push a message and legislation on its own. That is why it is so important to amplify the voice of those most impacted.
My goal is to continue to increase air quality awareness and empower communities to question what they see and smell. In Hispanic culture, we are told to keep our heads down and stay busy, working to put food on the table. But we need to inform our fellow citizens and provide much-needed resources to bring attention to these issues before we can tackle and deal with those who are at fault for them.