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Since the first appointments were made to the board by Gov. John Connally twelve years ago, Texas business interests have been well represented, even in the four positions supposedly reserved for “citizen” members. However, no black, chicano, woman or emphysema victim has ever won an appointment twenty have been made since 1965 and the present board does not include even one noted environmentalist. \(See box on page four for current `Predominant aggregation’ Houston is the ninth largest industrial and manufacturing center in the U.S. Its two hundred chemical plants and nine refineries turn out 66 percent of the nation’s petrochemical products and some of its unhealthiest urban air. A study of mortality in the city from 1940 to 1969 published last year reached the following conclusion: “The evidence is overwhelming that the environmental factors of exposure over time to air and industrial pollutants in Houston has had a demonstrable effect in doubling regional mortality from cancer of the respiratory tract in the last fifteen years as well as from other diseases and conditions of the respiratory tract and from heart disease.” \(See box on page five for other According to another recent study, The Atlas of Cancer Mortality, 1950-69, Harris, Galveston and Jefferson counties are among the top ten percent of U.S. counties reporting significant cancer death rates. The atlas also shows ‘t that for lung cancer, the “predominant aggregation” \(outside of New York City Texas to the Florida panhandle. \(While definitive answers to the causes of cancer are not provided, the study demonstrates clearly that the incidence of cancer along the Gulf is much higher for white males than for non-whites. This finding has led to speculation that discriminatory hiring practices at coastal chemical plants may have saved many The statistics are highly suggestive, but there is little incontrovertible evidence linking exposure to pollutant x \(or a certain concentration of pollutant with a particular illness. With evidence that is, strictly speaking, inconclusive, who should be made to bear the burden of proof in pollution hazard disputes before the TACB? Is it industry’s responsibility to show that its operations pose no serious pollution risk, or should it fall to individual citizens to prove otherwise? Clearcut answers from the TACB to these and related questions are unlikely, but the stance taken by the board last year in controversies between industries requesting permits for new construction 6 The Texas Observer and parties opposing the permits is not encouraging. To comply with the state’s new Administrative Procedures Act in January, 1976, the board appointed an impartial hearing examiner and introduced courtroom rules of evidence to TACB hearings on permit applications and other contested matters. Hearing examiner Jonathan Smith concluded that TACB’s mandate to control the board ought to insist that industries show that their activities would not impair public health or increase pollution in areas where a federal standard was already being violated. In the first two cases to come before him, Smith recommended that TACB deny permits for expansion of Tenneco’s polyvinyl-chloride plant in Pasadena and Vetco 3C’s pipe-coating plant in Spring Branch. . Tenneco, Smith contended, failed to make its case that emissions from an expanded polyvinyl-chloride plant would not be injurious to public health. He said Vetco 3C failed to prove that their emissions would not violate federal air standards. However, the board voted last April to continue issuing permits for new con Harris, Galveston and Jefferson counties are in the top ten percent of U.S. counties with significant cancer death rates. struction in areas of the state that had not attained federal standards. Smith and the board were on a collision course, and at its July meeting, the board issued the Vetco 3C permit, overruling Smith. Smith resigned as hearing examiner and was shifted to another staff position, but later quit the TACB altogether. Tenneco and the League of Women Voters, who had opposed the Pasadena permit in open hearings, agreed to conduct a study of the considerations involved in control strategies for known airborne carcinogens, particularly vinyl chloride and benzine. Tenneco pledged up to $25,000 for the study. A conference is planned for October. Although there was talk that Tenneco more or less “bought” a permit for $25,000, the board rejected the report of their former hearing examiner, blessed the League-Tenneco agreement, and, in August, granted the company the permit it sought. The Tenneco case set an ominous prechloride, a compound used in the production of plastics, are better understood and more alarming than those of many other substances. Exposure to vinyl chloride has been linked convincingly to angiosarcoma, a fatal cancer of the liver, and to an increased incidence of cancer in other body tissues. Angiosarcoma often does not develop for fifteen to twenty years after contact with vinyl chloride. As of June, 1975, the National Cancer Institute had confirmed 27 cases of liver angiosarcoma among workers exposed to vinyl chloride. An American Cancer Society survey recorded only one case per 78,000 deaths studied. The figures suggest that workers exposed to vinyl chloride are 3,000 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public. Two months after the Tenneco ruling, the TACB granted a permit to Diamond Shamrock Corp. to expand a vinyl chloride plant in Deer Park. The TACB staff and John Turney, Smith’s successor as hearing examiner, recommended the permit. The vinyl-chloride saga continues. New EPA standards for vinyl-chloride emission went into effect last October. Although some medical researchers maintain there is no safe level of exposure to the chemical, EPA settled on a standard of 10 parts per million in ambient air or water. In response to a recent suit, EPA has agreed to cut the allowable emissions to 5 ppm. Harold Scarlett, writing in The Houston Post, noted that none of greater Houston’s seven binylchloride and polyvinyl-chloride plants could comply with the new EPA regulations. All seven companies have applied to the EPA for grace periods of up to two years to meet the standard; four applications have been approved so far. One sad, but relevant development in the months since the Tenneco permit was granted: Bob Churchwell, environmental sciences manager at the company’s Pasadena plant, has developed liver cancer. Murky as the air With so much still unknown about the effects of pollution, error is hardly avoidable, but are we to err on the side of excess caution in safeguarding public health, or on the side of excess caution in protecting Texas’ booming industrial growth? The TACB has a hard job. Matters before it often seem as murky as the air it is charged with protecting. But, with the exception of a few faithful reporters and an occasional citizen’s group, Texans rarely demonstrate the interest in clean air that the issue deserves. Industry takes the issue seriously because the stakes are so high. The breathing public would do well to do the same, and for the same reasons. Susan Reid and Becky Moon have been monitoring the work of the TACB for the League of Women Voters and other groups.