Ted Genoways at On Earth has an excellent investigative piece on the cost the town of Port Arthur has paid to be the oil refinery center of the U.S.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory places Jefferson County among the very worst in the nation for air releases of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive disorders. In a state that regularly records in excess of 2,500 toxic emissions events per year, Port Arthur is near the top of the list of offending cities. Data collected by the Texas Cancer Registry indicates that cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.
The reason is simple: this is where many Americans get their oil and gas. Yet despite Port Arthur’s importance to our fuel-dependent way of life, few people have ever heard of it. Of those who have, many know the city as little more than a name that gets repeated in countless articles about the Keystone XL pipeline. Should the final phase of the project be approved, Port Arthur will be the completed pipeline system’s terminus. The city’s refineries stand at the ready to turn 830,000 barrels per day of diluted, chemically treated bitumen into heavy diesel and petroleum coke—a dirtier alternative to coal.
You might wonder how people get caught living in such a toxic environment. Al Huang,
director of NRDC's environmental justice program, tells us how people are drawn into these toxic communities by false promises and lies.
Poverty rates in these neighborhoods are typically 1.5 times greater than they are elsewhere. Many promises get made when new industrial sites or hazardous waste facilities are being proposed: jobs, new amenities for the community, sometimes even direct infusions of cash. These promises almost always fall short of a community’s needs or expectations. More significantly, they can never outweigh the short- and long-term health costs imposed on residents in the places they live, work, play, and pray. Then there’s the fact that someone who happens to live near and work in a hazardous facility is essentially being exposed to toxic chemicals 24 hours a day.Refinery spokespeople acknowledge that their facilities are emitting toxic chemicals. But they follow up that acknowledgment with a question: Are we as consumers willing to reduce our addiction to fossil fuel energy?