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longer time. Local representatives of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission initially described the flaring as insignificant. Mike Hagan, air section manager for the T.N.R.C.C., told the Odessa American that as long as Huntsman is “doing all it can” to get the equipment on line and to avoid risk, the agency would not intervene. Hagan added, “We expect those types of things to happen at start-up,” although how such an extended situation could qualify as a temporary “upset” is unclear. Hagan said emissions would be reduced in time, and blamed the troubling air conditions in the Southside neighborhood on an unusual lack of wind. Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that in addition to the danger presented by the flared chemicals themselves, fine particles of carbon and silicon dioxide can lodge deep in lung tissue and are a health threat, especially to children and the elderly. “I don’t think this is a healthy situation for the community,” Carman said. /n the past, Joe Armesto’s family, like many residents of the Southside community, had suffered breathing trou bles, recurrent pneumonia, and asthma. But he hadn’t been quick to place the blame for the health problems on the management of the industrial chemicals factory down the road. But seeing the smoke that night set off his suspicions. “I looked up and thought, ‘Maybe this is why we’re always sick,’ Armesto said. But he didn’t have time to dwell on the thought. By the next morning, his year-old daughter was gasping for breath, and the family was stumbling into the local emergency room. The official state response, from the T.N.R.C.C. whose only local office is located in Midland, more than twenty miles away, and which at the time had no effective way of monitoring air releases by the company was somewhat less than vigorous. The immediate health complaints that came to the office often received no response for many hours; in some cases, not until the following day. And when agency representatives did respond to this first group of complaints, they invariably determined there was “insufficient evidence” to link the health complaints with any emissions from the plant. In subsequent weeks, as residents were approached by attorneys interested in their plight, more than 3,100 health complaints were collected by the local office of the N.A.A.C.P. the most ever submitted to the agency in a single day. Yet of the thousands of complaints submitted to the agency, none were initially logged into the T.N.R.C.C. database, as is the normal procedure. Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the agency, told the Observer that because of the unusual volume of similar complaints, the decision was eventually made to log them all into the database as a single complaint from one organization. “But we still take them just as seriously,” said Kelley. “We were working with the Department of Health on that episode as well. They confirmed that there were no serious health effects from the flaring.” \(For more on the T.N.R.C.C.’s complaint procedure, see sidebar, As for the Huntsman Corporation, the public response by the company’s billionaire founder and company chairman, Jon Meade Huntsman, only aggravated the community’s anger. At a community meeting in July, 1999, chairman Huntsman sidestepped any comment on the residents’ allegations and health complaints, saying only, “I’m sorry for some of you who live on the Southside.. I wish you weren’t poor. I wish you had everything. I really do.” Huntsman claimed his company was spending its entire profit margin to support the failing Odessa plant. According to materials provided by the company, Huntsman Corporation is North America’s largest privately-held chemical company, with facilities in 34 countries employing more than 16,000 employees, and revenues of approximately $8 billion. Huntsman says it has invested $1.2 billion in the Odessa facility, including the 1997 purchase price and a $350 million expansion and modernization. Since Huntsman is privately held and its financial information is unavailable, Jon Huntsman’s claim about expenses in Odessa cannot be independently verified. But in January, 1999, company president Peter Huntsman told the Odessa American that the Odessa plant generates $700 to $750 million of Huntsman’s $5 billion in annual sales of various plastics products figures expected to rise 60 percent following the recent expansion. Yet speaking of the company’s growing local investment, Jon Huntsman warned the community icily that continued losses could not be tolerated. With 730 jobs and a $44.7 million payroll, Huntsman is Odessa’s largest private employer. The absentee boss’ thinly-veiled message of “Get off my back or else,” didn’t sit very well with those in the path of his company’s emissions. “They were highly offended,” recalled Gene Collins, the Odessa chapter president of the N.A.A.C.P. “Because not everyone over there’s poor. It just happened that when they moved there, it was the only place black people could live.” It wasn’t until the Seventies that a person of color was able to get a home loan to purchase a house north of the train tracks, he added. “Quite frankly, they were insulted when [Huntsman] told them there were no harmful chemicals in his plant. That was an insult to the people there,” Collins said. Moreover, Jon Huntsman’s considered judgment of the residents’ growing fears of serious illness hardly suggested a willingness to consider disinterested science. After the meeting, this giant of the chemical industry and two-time cancer survivor who, ironically, recently presided over the opening of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah denied outright that chemical companies have any relationship to illness. “There’s no link between chemical companies and cancer whatsoever. If I thought anything we did causes cancer, I would shut it down.” Huntsman has since sponsored free cancer screenings for area residents, and community picnics providing chemical safety inforterial emphasizes their involvement in the Odessa community On January 12-13 of this year, in less than twenty-four hours, Huntsman Polymers sent to its flare \(according to company butadiene and 1,400 pounds of benzene classified respectively as suspected and known carcinogens by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7 SEPTEMBER 22, 2000