$500K EPA grant allows air quality tests in Pleasantville, Sunnyside, other communities

Pooja Lodhia Image
Thursday, November 30, 2023
$500K EPA grant places air quality tests in untested communities
The Houston Health Department received a nearly $500,000 grant that will allow air quality testing in communities that have never been tested before.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Located just inside the northeast corner of the 610 Loop, Pleasantville was Houston's first planned Black community.

In the present day, about 4,000 people live there, with about 98% of them Black and Hispanic. Roughly one in four people are below the poverty level.

"A lot of people in this community have died of cancer, and we don't know why," resident Marsha Lister said. "We live in a box. We are surrounded by industry. We're surrounded by chemical plants. We're surrounded by the freeway - pollutants from trucks."

What she didn't mention is the determination of the residents.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered nearly $500,000 to increase air quality testing and education in Pleasantville and other areas like Sunnyside and Galena Park.

It's a grant the Houston Health Department will use while working with local environmental groups.

Residents have been pushing for this for decades.

"We're like the little wagon that makes all the noise," Lister said. "We just kept marching, and we wouldn't stop."

"In terms of the whole United States, this community and the ones surrounding it, but specifically Pleasantville, is in the 99th percentile of the absolute worst cancer risk from air toxin exposure," Loren Hopkins, the Houston Health Department's chief environmental officer, explained. "Ethylene oxide is actually the biggest cancer driver here in this community, and we do not have one single measure of ethylene oxide. They will be the first to measure it."

"So we know what's slowly killing us. I just gotta say it how it is," Cleophus Sharp, who was born in Pleasantville, said. "Because if I hadn't got out of Pleasantville, I don't think I would be alive because the air quality was so bad."

Testing won't solve what they are facing, and it's tough to say what accountability looks like, but for many residents, this is a step toward improving air quality.

If readings are dangerously high, they hope to start changing regulations and eventually hold companies accountable.

"It means that we're able to breathe. It means that we're going to be able to go forward," Lister said.

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