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May 4, 2000 - TEXAS IGNORES TOXIC COMPLAINTS FROM MINORITY COMMUNITIES

"Odessa Syndrome" 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 officials.

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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