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advocated that the district move the school. “I told them they should put an administration building there;’ he says with a devious smile. He hopes that moving Chavez would set a precedent for other schools in Texas and around the nation located in polluted areas. Though Chavez is a startling example, many other schools are near chemical facilities. The Refinery Reform Campaign, a national environmental group, says that roughly 200,000 kids attend Texas schools within 2 miles of a chemical plant. In West Virginia, a school sits directly below a leaking coal-sludge dam. HISD and city officials long dismissed the idea of moving the school as impractical and too costly. Now environmental politics in Houston are changing. Dogged reporting by the Houston Chronicle and other media helped spur Mayor Bill White’s administration to crack down on industrial emissions along the Ship Channel. The recent leukemia study brought home the importance of clean air in Houston. Even the Greater Houston Partnership, the nexus of the city’s big-business community, recently formed an air-quality task force. Most everyonelocal residents, teachers, and even some city officialsconcedes that, in retrospect, the school shouldn’t have been built beside three chemical plants \(although an HISD spokesman did defend the location of the school, sayseems resigned to it. Chavez offers a stern test of the city’s new environmental ethos. Moving the school seems unlikely. Parras acknowledges it won’t be easy, but he hopes the city all photos by Troy Fields will soon gather the political will to rectify what he calls one of Houston’s worst environmental injustices. he decision to build Chavez High at its present site was made in 1992, when the school district purchased the property. The district bought the more than 36acre site for a bargain price, $4 million cash. Nearby neighborhoods needed a new high school to relieve overcrowded Milby High, which has educated East End kids for decades. The district decided to place the new school on the largest patch of land available in the area. Once the process began, no public official or community leader could muster the will to stop it. Parras and other activists were continually told it was a “done deal.” For years, HISD maintained the school was safe. In the few news stories written about Chavez, district spokesman Terry Abbott rebuffed criticism of the air quality. He said the district performed two independent studies of the air and soil that turned up no environmental problems. That’s not entirely accurate. The district completed at least three environmental assessments of the site, only one of which examined air quality, according to documents obtained by the Observer through open-records laws. HISD contracted for an initial environmental assessment in January 1992. The report concluded that the site contained numerous instances of industrial ground contamination, including possibly leaking storage tanks. That report didn’t mention air pollution. MARCH 23, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7