New EPA program could bring better air quality to Houston Ship Channel communities

Elyse Smith Image
Monday, April 22, 2024
How a new EPA program could bring better air quality to Houston
Residents in the Houston Ship Channel said the city's air quality problem is not being addressed the way it should, but a new EPA program could help.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Like many large cities, Houston has an air quality problem. Much of that stems from the industry that helped make this city what it is today, but at what cost?

In observance of Earth Day, ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith spoke to residents and advocacy groups who said Houston's air quality problem is not being addressed the way it should.

Diane Olmos Guzman grew up in Magnolia Park, near the Ship Channel, and has lived in the Houston area ever since. She recalls growing up near the chemical facilities, describing how the air could smell like rotten eggs and clouds coming from the chimneys of the plants.

She also believes what was released into the air could have harmed her and her neighbor's health. Her father, sister, and a few close friends all died of cancer. She also noted several neighbors on her block suffering from respiratory illnesses.

For those reasons and more, Olmos Guzman has become an advocate for her community, researching the potential impacts harmful air quality can have on her and her neighbors.

"We don't know what's going on in there," she said. "We need to know; they need to share the good and the bad information with us. And that hasn't happened."

ABC13's Shannon Ryan reported numerous stories on the health of communities near the Ship Channel, including, most recently, how the area near the Ship Channel has been deemed a "sacrifice zone" due to the high concentration of pollution.

In a few short weeks, a new program from the EPA called "Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention" is expected to be finalized. And as local experts tell us, this could be good news for Houston.

Inyang Uwak from Air Alliance Houston told ABC13 that this new rule from the EPA will protect fence-line communities located near chemical facilities.

The EPA's webpage dedicated to the rule states, "The final rule includes new safeguards such as identifying safer technologies and chemical alternatives, requiring implementation of safeguard measures in certain cases, more thorough incident investigations, and third-party auditing."

ABC13 asked Air Alliance Houston if they think these companies will follow suit and make the necessary changes.

"We hope that the industry is paying attention," Uwak said. "Because this affects these people, people's lives, you know? They need to be good neighbors."

Olmos Guzman is hopeful but believes it will take more community participation and activism to see real change in her neighborhood. She credits a recent spike in the interest in air quality initiatives and health to the COVID-19 pandemic when those with underlying health conditions had difficulty recovering from the disease.

As of April 22, the Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention rule from the EPA will be effective as of May 10.

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