HOUSTON - Yudith Nieto grew up in Manchester, a community on Houston’s east side that for the most part stands reluctantly at the center of several oil refineries.
“A lot of my little cousins, including myself, grew up with asthma, bloody noses and headaches,” Nieto said.
She believes many of their health concerns are caused by air pollution, that could be prevented if the EPA enforced stricter guidelines to cut refinery emissions.
“It takes a person to get sick, dizzy, or end up in the hospital for us to realize that there has been a leak,” Nieto said.
Thursday afternoon Nieto and other community members, as well as environmentalists from across the country, attended a special EPA hearing at the Hartman Community Center in Manchester. The hearing came as a response to a petition filed by concerned community members about changes being made to EPA regulations.
Community members say after the EPA finally released new standards last December regarding the pollution refineries can emit, it then created dangerous new exemptions from pollution in a closed door meeting. They say one of those exemptions include allowing refineries to release large amounts of toxic air pollution during short periods of time, through pressure relief devices and smoking flares.
“Apparently they must think we don’t know what’s going on,” said Trinidad Castillo, who lives on the east side. “The smell is horrendous. It’s so bad that you want to throw up.”
An oil industry spokesperson pointed out air quality in the United States has improved significantly and that the oil industry is doing its part to work with the government and abide by the best safety practices.
"After conducting extensive analysis based on an unprecedented level of information gathered from the refining industry, the U.S. EPA concluded that the public was already protected through implementation of previous emission reduction measures,” said Doug Van Pelt, an oil industry spokesman.
Van Pelt said, according to the EPA’s national Air Trends, emissions of air toxins have declined nationally between 1990 and 2011 by 60 percent.