Dear Gov. Abbott,
We write today to ask you to protect the well-being of the people of Texas by advancing smart policies and fixing old rules to reduce our exposure to unhealthy air.
Harmful air pollution was one of the unseen dangers of Hurricane Harvey. By industry’s own estimates, some 6 million pounds of harmful chemicals escaped into the air statewide during and after the storm. Greater Houston alone had nearly 3 million pounds of excess air pollution because of the storm. That was roughly half the amount of extra pollution released during malfunctions and maintenance events at Houston-area plants for all of 2016. The pollutants included benzene, a cancer-causing compound that is not safe at any level of exposure. In Crosby, a series of explosions at a flooded chemical plant in filled the air with smoke, triggering an evacuation of nearby residents and sending 23 emergency workers to hospitals. Following Harvey, Houston schools reported a spike in the number of children transported to emergency rooms because of asthma.
Texas can and must reduce our communities’ exposure to these pollutants. Harvey was one of the largest storm events ever recorded, but it was not the worst-case scenario. We must adopt better management plans to protect public health from the environmental catastrophe that a direct hit from a hurricane could present.
We, the undersigned, call on you to:
- Restore chemical right-to-know standards so that first responders and those living near industrial facilities can fully understand the potential hazards of plants’ chemical inventories;
- Leave state environmental rules in place, rather than suspending them in response to storms, to make certain that companies take every necessary action to protect public health and safety, and;
- Ensure that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is fully equipped to respond to pollution events by funding additional staff positions and tools, such as a mobile monitoring unit for full-time use in Houston.
We, the undersigned, call on you to direct the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to:
- Use its authority to stagger startups and shutdowns in response to storms in order to minimize the cumulative impacts of pollution on the public;
- Develop a plan for active air quality monitoring and surveillance, with the expectation that the agency deploys mobile sampling equipment during disasters and times of limited coverage from its stationary network, and;
- Share as much information as it can about environmental sampling in real time – even if data is still under review for quality assurance – because the public should know about any pollution hazard. Also, refrain from making statements about impacts to public health – or absence of impacts – unless data fully supports them.
These steps will help ensure that our emergency responders and public health officials can to protect our communities when they are most vulnerable.