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informing_designs FileMaker Database Designs Since 1989 Sales Contacts Inventory Workflows Registrations Membership Reports More Austin, Texas 512 263 2039 George Perry, Principal [email protected] The Herb Bar “Best place to cure what ails you” Explore our Oasis of Earthly Delights! extensive array of natural health and bodycare products Mil44..0 comprehensive collection of herbs www.theherbbancom great gift ideas and much more! Mon.-Fri. 10-6:30 200 West Mary 444-6251 Sat. 10-5 like daylight here,” says Juan M. Amaya, 70, who’s lived next to the plants for 10 years. Every morning, Amaya washes a layer of bright brown dust off his pickup. He says his wife has developed a terrible cough since they’ve lived on the street. His neighbors describe respiratory and skin problems, including psoriasis. Across the street, Jose Rodriguez wakes in the early morning to begin his route as a dump-truck driver. The smells early in the morning are almost unbearable, he says. Since they moved here 14 years ago, Rodriguez says, his wife, Sandra, has developed asthma. There are other stories of leukemia in the area. \(The best-documented case is that of Valentin Marroquin, who developed leukemia after attending It’s difficult to determine exactly how much benzene and butadiene lurks in the air near Chavez. The three plants next to the school spewed 114,806 pounds of butadiene in 2005, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. Texas Petrochemicals, the closest plant to the school, emitted 104,540 pounds of butadiene. Houston’s Bureau of Air Quality Control consistently measures concentrations of butadiene around the Texas Petrochemicals plant above 1 part per billion over the course of a year. Those levels could be dangerous. A 2002 EPA study on mice found that extended respiratory exposure to butadiene above 0.9 ppb can cause serious health problems. It’s worth noting that releases of butadiene can begin to dissipate within two hours on clear days, and how much exposure kids at Chavez receive on a given day depends on wind direction. The recent University of Texas study, however, offers stark warnings. The report found that children living in areas with heavy butadiene concentrations saw a 40 percent higher risk for all forms of leukemia. The city health department will soon begin a door-to-door health study in the East End that may better document the prevalence of leukemia and other forms of cancer. In 2005, the Chronicle published an investigative series by reporter Dina Cappiello called “In Harm’s Way.” The paper set up its own air monitors in some of Houston’s most polluted neighborhoods and found dangerous levels of toxins with potentially devastating health effects. While East End communities remain apathetic, the series and subsequent articles by Cappiello did have an effect at City Hall. The depth of the series’ political impact was such that, when interviewed for this story, City Council member Carol Alvarado, who represents the East End and Chavez High School, even invokes the series’ name. “The debate is over. We’re in harm’s way;’ she says. With little enforcement coming from the state, Mayor White’s administration has used what legal remedies it has to crack down on industrial emissions along the Ship Channel. In late 2005, the city convinced Texas Petrochemicals to sign a butadiene-reduction agreement for its plant beside Chavez. After the agreement, the plant reduced butadiene emissions by 58 percent, according to city officials. Several recent releases at the plant, including a major upset last September, undid much of that progress. Under the agreement, Texas Petrochemicals has until the end of 2007 to bring its butadiene air concentrations below 1 ppb. Meanwhile, the politics of air pollution in Houston continues to shift. The city is working to pass a benzene-reduction plan that would target Harris County’s top seven benzene producers. \(The plan has come under attack from mayors is serious about the problem. Alvarado grew up not far from the future site of Chavez High, but Parras and others in the community have long been frustrated with what they say is her inaction on air pollution. Parras says Alvarado refused to help him fight the location of Chavez High. Asked about the school after a recent council meeting, she says, “[Air quality] does need to be a criteria in the future for new schools. In the future, schools should not be in a 2-mile proximity of a chemical facility.” She has no legislation pending on the subject and says she would have to research whether the city or state or district can determine placement of schools. Asked if she thinks the school should be moved, she hedges, “That’s a discussion we have to have with HISD. You have to look at who pays for it.” For Parras, it’s obviousor should be obviousthat schools shouldn’t be built in such places. Late on a crisp February afternoon, Parras wraps up his toxic tour. He walks down off the Chavez bleachers and heads toward the parking lot. Before leaving, he points out one of the new additions to the Chavez campusa course for the cross-country team. The trail cuts through the woods and leads north from the school, above the pipeline easement, and toward the flame towers, where students run along the fence line. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 23, 2007