May 4, 2000
IGNORES TOXIC COMPLAINTS FROM MINORITY COMMUNITIES
Plagues Residents --- Pickets at Governor's Mansion
Austin...."Upsets" at a plastics manufacturing complex have repeatedly
engulfed the poorer sections of Odessa in toxic fumes but state officials
have ignored residents' complaints of health problems, according to
documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (Texas PEER). African-American and Mexican-American
residents bussed into Austin to protest inaction by state environmental
Twice in the past 15 months, the massive Huntsman Corporation plant
in Odessa has suffered what are termed "upsets", belching out excessive
amounts of smoke containing benzene, butadiene and other carcinogens
across the poorer sections of Odessa with heavy concentration of Black
and Hispanic residents. Despite an outpouring of health complaints
from affected residents, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation
Commission (TNRCC), the state environmental agency has:
*Ignored health complaints. In fact, TNRCC logged only one out of
the estimated 3,500 complaints into their complaint data base.
*Suffered a breakdown in air quality monitoring. Air monitoring equipment
has failed to produce any usable data.
*Failed to take any enforcement action against Huntsman for exceeding
permit emission limits. Earlier this year, TNRCC began to negotiate
with the company on "an Agreed Order" in which Huntsman would end
up paying a meager $4,500 fine. Last month, community protests caused
TNRCC to order its staff to re-open the matter.
Gene Collins, local president of the NAACP who led Odessa residents
to protest in Austin, said, "The fact is they totally ignored the
complaints from the citizens. We feel the responsibility stops there
at the Governor's mansion."
"Usually, it's ‘three strikes and you're out' but for corporate polluters
in Texas it's ‘three strikes and you're back at bat,'" commented Texas
PEER Coordinator Erin Rogers. "If people's health were not at stake
it would almost be comical -- the Texas pollution police have become
the gang that couldn't shoot straight."
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