Brownsville to Amarillo, and you’d still have pickups left over they would have gone across the border a couple hundred miles in either direction. That’ s just for one year, the amount of pollution that one plant produces.” Add Alcoa’s emissions one plant, in one year to what pours out of statewide industry’s stacks and settles on our land, our water, and in our lungs, and you have a Texas-sized, exhaust-filled, environmental demolition derby, every single year. These emissions represent an enormous public cost in direct and indirect health and environmental consequences, a social tax forcibly imposed on all the state’s citizens. But industry and the Legislature have firmly resisted any attempt to make polluters pay to clean up their own mess. “The idiocy of our charges for pollution,” said Hirschi, “is that [companies] only pay an administrative fee for the first 4,000 tons, and after that they don’t pay anything. The more they produce, the less the unit cost is. We’re not only subsidizing pollution, we’re encouraging it. The more you do, the less it costs you to produce it.. There’s little incentive for them to do anything unless we pass more stringent laws, or not renew the grandfather privilege they have enjoyed all these years.” Hirschi, who is retiring from the Legislature this year, failed last session to persuade his colleagues or the Governor that polluters should be fairly taxed for the environmental cleanup and public health costs they create. The raw numbers, huge as they are, understate the public health cently estimated that 64,000 premature deaths occur nationally each year from particulate pollution alone \(at the time, higher than number in , dudes more than 2,600 Texans. Elevated instances of lung disease, auto-immune disease, and various forms of cancer are common in communities subjected to heavy industrial pollution. The grandfathered issue, as important as it is, is only one segment of the state’s problem; “permitted” hazardous waste incinerators and cement kilns for example, the Texas Industries facility in Midlothian emit highly volatile toxic materials, including PCBs and dioxins, that travel through the air for hundreds of miles, polluting airways and waterways as far away as the Great Lakes. The six federally designated “criteria pollutants” \(ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, microscopic particulate matter, lead, and and tonnage of chemicals poured into the Texas air: in Harris County alone, more than 21,000 tons of known toxins and carcinogens \(ethylene, toluene, ammonia, benzene, acetone, chloromethane, butadiene, and hundreds of other highly dangerous amounts of highly toxic mercury are emitted from Texas’ coalburning power plants \(about six tons each year, more than any poisoning waterways, and entering the food chain. Neil Carman, now with the Sierra Club, is a former state air pollution control official \(twelve years with the TNRCC’ s predecesity is steadily deteriorating, and the state’s responses have been woefully inadequate. “The entire eastern airshed of the state has been under attack for several decades,” he says, describing the air corridor running from Corpus Christi through Galveston and Houston, north and northwest to Dallas/Fort Worth. The effects of the air pollution include everything from reduced visibility, to noxious ozone smog \(a byproduct of the reaction between volatile ortory problems, to elevated death rates. The deaths also occur not just from lung diseases or cancer, but from seemingly unrelated causes \(which official health statistics do not recognize as pollutablished the danger of small air-borne particulate pollution, which “What’s going on with these chemical companies is exactly what’s been going on with the tobacco companies for years… People are dying to support their profits.” LaNell Anderson blood stream. \(In recognition of these dangers, California standards on particulates are now three times as strict as those of the exact mechanism,” he said, “but one theory is that these particles are able to cause small changes in blood chemistry. If you are already heart-attack prone, or already have had a heart attack, a slight change in the coagulatability of your blood can trigger a fatal heart attack…. When they look at you, they say, ‘This guy died of a heart attack.’ Yet it was the air pollution that killed him.” Industry scientists respond that these chemicals exist in the air in only trace amounts, but Carman says standard regulatory procedures measure the toxins only in gaseous form, ignoring particulate-borne toxins, and that in any case, the amount is not the crucial question. “If you fire a gun at somebody, and it hits the heart, that bullet’s not very big, but it’s moving. It’s a tiny mass compared to your body, and yet, bingo! So we know that small bullets can kill.” Carman extends the bullet analogy in criticizing the standard regulatory procedure of analyzing chemical pollutants and pollution sources one at a time, instead of considering as a whole the complex “toxic soup” that most Texans are now breathing daily. “It’s sort of like a doctor looking at a man who just got killed with a shotgun, and saying, ‘We’re only going to look at one pellet at a time.’ And that’s what they do: one-pellet analysis. And it has no bearing on reality. Because what people are breathing is like a toxic shot-gun blast of pollution. It’s a mixture of stuff.” APRIL 24, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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