HOUSTON – As Hurricane Laura barreled toward the Gulf Coast a few weeks ago, in and around Houston, plants and refineries scrambled to shut down.
Once the coast was clear, those same plants and refineries needed to restart. Part of that process includes more rigorous flaring which is the burning off of excess chemicals.
“Flaring is an approved way to safely relieve pressure during a unit shutdown,” said a statement from East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA).
The unfortunate by-product of flaring is more pollution.
During the shutdown and restart process surrounding Hurricane Laura, energy companies reported to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) that 8 million pounds of emissions were released in Harris, Brazoria, Jefferson and Orange counties.
Some of those emissions included carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide: pollutants and irritants.
Sister Ricca Dimalibot is a doctor who pins many of her patients' problems on the plants.
“We are so close to the ship channel which happens to be one of the largest petrochemical factories here in the United States,” said Dimalibot.
“And if we’re talking about lives of people and if the chemical industry puts profit ahead of the people that’s very problematic," she added.
There’s some opinion there but here’s a fact:
During that exact same period that refineries shut down for Hurricane Laura, the state of Texas unplugged its air quality monitors in the storm’s path.
Much of the equipment however stayed on site.
A key public protection layer was shut down during a period of high pollution.
Our state’s version of the Environmental Protection Agency is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The state agency said that hurricanes help air quality, “...and actually create climate conditions that decrease pollutants.”
If you depend on a plant or refinery to feed your family then that explanation may be just fine.
“I lived on this street my whole life not a problem,” said one Deer Park resident.
This isn’t the first time TCEQ’s stationary air monitors have been unavailable during an emergency.
Remember, the ITC fire last March? During a critical time during the fire, Channel 2 Investigates uncovered that an air monitor in the area was down for maintenance.
During both, Laura and the ITC disaster, after hours of no government-controlled monitoring, temporary measures and mobile units were deployed to sniff the air.
But that leaves the industry to at least police itself during a time when you would think there would be more oversight, not less.