Public health officials say it’s not strict enough.
Without public hearings, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is proposing to adopt its 17-year-old standard that scientists and public health officials say fails to account for cumulative air pollution.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has quietly proposed maintaining a target cancer risk level for air pollution permits that scientists and public health officials consider inadequate to protect public health, especially for communities like those east of Houston that are exposed simultaneously to many sources of industrial emissions.
The move comes after a state commission on accountability last year found “a concerning degree of general public distrust and confusion focused on TCEQ,” and the Texas Legislature adopted directives this year instructing the TCEQ to transparently review and approve “foundational policy decisions” that had never been publicly approved, including “the acceptable level of health-based risk” used in pollution permitting.
In response, TCEQ proposed, without public hearings or additional study, to formalize its existing target cancer risk level of 1 in 100,000, meaning that only one excess case of cancer among 100,000 similarly exposed people would result from each individual pollutant from each individually permitted site.
The agency has been using that risk level since 2006, said a TCEQ spokesman, Richard Richter. He said TCEQ’s target “is reasonable from a regulatory perspective and is protective of human health.” It “insignificantly contributes to an individual’s lifetime cancer risk,” he said.
But by looking at each site and chemical separately, scientists and public health officials say, the assessment method drastically under-represents the actual risks faced by communities situated near industrial complexes, like the great conglomerations of fuming refineries and chemical plants that dot the Texas coast.
“TCEQ should be proactive and change their cancer risk to protect individuals living in high risk communities,” wroteLatrice Babin, executive director of Harris County Pollution Control Services, in official comments. She asked for a target risk level of one in 1 million.
“TCEQ is scrambling to adopt work from nearly 20 years ago with no analysis,” wrote a coalition of Texas environmental groups led by Air Alliance Houston.
The City of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city and home to its largest petrochemical complex, has also asked the TCEQto tighten standards. Bill Kelly, Houston’s director of government relations, said TCEQ should “absolutely” lower its target cancer risk level.
Richter did not respond to a request for interviews with TCEQ’s politically appointed leadership, but said that the agency, to satisfy the Legislature’s directives on public participation, sent its proposal for a target risk rate, along with instructions on filing comments, to more than 3,300 email addresses on its toxicology listserv, which goes to subscribers from both industry and the general public. The proposal also appeared Sept. 1 on page 182 of the Texas Register, a weekly journal of state agency rulemaking.
In response, the TCEQ received more than 200 official comments asking the agency to lower its target risk level to one in 1 million. Just one response came in support of its proposed risk level: the Texas Chemical Council, a chemical industry lobbying group, wrote, “the proposed level is protective of public health.”
Target Risk Levels
The target risk level helps determine the volumes of carcinogenic emissions that industrial operators are allowed to release in Texas, seat of the nation’s oil, gas and petrochemical industry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the upper limit of cancer risk level from permitted air pollution at 1 in 10,000, and sets a target level at 1 in 1 million. Richter called the TCEQ’s target rate the “logarithmic center” of that range, and said it allows ample space for corrective action before permitted pollution sources exceed the EPA’s upper limit for cancer risk.
He said the agency has used its target risk level since 2006 when it formalized its guidelines for toxicity standards. Those guidelines attribute the figure to standards set by California in 1986. Those guidelines also produced a broad loosening of air pollution health standards in Texas, according to a 2014 investigation by Inside Climate News and the Center for Public Integrity.
Richter pointed to a 2010 survey of state air permitting policy by Michigan’s environmental regulator, which found that 20 U.S. states didn’t evaluate cancer-causing “air toxics” when permitting new pollution sources. Of the 28 that did, 14 states used target risk levels to set limits. Eight used 1 in 1 million, including California. Just one, Louisiana, used the upper end —1 in 10,000.
Two, Texas and Minnesota, used 1 in 100,000. (Georgia and Rhode Island used 1 in 1 million for some toxins and 1 in 100,000 for others.)
Cumulative Impacts of Pollution
That figure doesn’t represent the target cancer risk for entire states. It’s the target cancer risk resulting from each individual pollutant from each individually permitted facility. Where many facilities emit chemicals across vast industrial landscapes, scientists say, all those supposedly insignificant contributions can add up — or even multiply when they interact.
“These numbers often underestimate the true risk,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the Environmental Research and Translation for Health Center at the University of California San Francisco.
That’s why, scientists say, tighter standards are needed to account for the cumulative impacts of pollution that disproportionately impact underserved and vulnerable populations.
“The old way of doing things is to look at one pollutant at a time, one emissions source at a time, but in reality no one is exposed to one pollutant at a time,” said Jill Johnston, director of the Environmental Justice Research Lab at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “There’s been a shift in moving towards cumulative risk characterization.”
The science isn’t new, said Wilma Subra, an environmental consultant in Louisiana who studied cumulative impacts of air pollution for the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in the early 1990s. But it has been difficult to incorporate into air permitting.
“Sometimes you have 20, 30, 40 or more chemicals, some of which have standards and some of which do not, all in the air and crossing the fenceline,” she said. “You can make statements that each of these chemicals are meeting the standard in the air, and you just ignore the cumulative impacts.”
TCEQ guidelines say the agency assesses cumulative risks from pollution in accordance with state and federal law. But outside experts say that’s not always what happens.
“Right now when it comes to air toxics, TCEQ looks at one air contaminant, one site. Each air contaminant is evaluated on its own coming from one site,” said one air permitting consultant who used to work for the TCEQ and requested anonymity to preserve his business relationship with the agency. “If you’re only looking at benzene at just one site, but you’re surrounded by refineries that have a high concentration of benzene liquids being stored, that may not be a comprehensive view.”
The mixture of different pollutants can drastically increase toxicity, according to Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a clinician scientist at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital and a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
The effect has been shown with tobacco, which is relatively easy to study, Lanphear said. Smoking tobacco can increase a person’s risk for lung cancer by a factor of 10, while exposure to arsenic can increase the risk by a factor of two. But the combination of smoking and arsenic exposure has been shown to increase risk by a factor of 25.
“There is a big multiplicative risk because you have two toxic pollutants that magnify the effect of each other,” he said. “That’s got huge implications if you’ve got lots of different chemical plants in a place like Houston.”
With tobacco users, he said, it’s easy to measure individuals’ exposure and compare that with non-smokers. For the plethora of industrial air pollutants, gauging exposure and effects is much more complicated — and studying their combinations is even more so.
“It’s challenging, but the regulatory agencies should be doing it,” he said.
A Tradeoff of Costs
Short of modeling cumulative impacts for every new permit, agencies can lower their target levels to acknowledge that cumulative effects generally raise the overall cancer risk from emissions, scientists say.
The EPA’s risk assessment framework for air toxics permitting calls for “an ample margin of safety to protect public health.”
“I prefer a target risk of 1 in a million,” said David Ozonoff, chair emeritus for environmental health at Boston University.
When the cumulative effects of pollution are poorly understood, Ozonoff said, erring toward caution “is more in line with public health philosophy.” But it comes with an additional financial burden to the businesses that need air pollution permits to operate.
“The cost of more protection might be in terms of profits or jobs while the cost of less protection is in lives and suffering,” Ozonoff said. “The costs and the benefits usually accrue to different groups of people. One group gets the benefits and another group pays the costs.”
In Texas, public health advocates call the costs a reasonable burden to place on big industry, especially with major operators like ExxonMobil, which runs one the nation’s largest pollution sources east of Houston and posted a record $56 billion profit last year.
“I can’t throw trash over my fenceline. Why can industry throw trash over its fenceline?” said Jen Powis, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s gulf regional office in Houston. “Industry has the financing and the dollars to make it less with pollution control equipment.”
In their comments requesting a lower target risk level, the Texas environmental groups said TCEQ had not “provided any evidence that this would be cost prohibitive to applicants across the broad range of air permitting programs.”
The Texas Chemical Council, in its comments, said it “commends the TCEQ for its consideration of risk/benefit tradeoffs in establishing its [target risk levels] which make levels achievable.”
‘A Concerning Degree of General Public Distrust’
The standard is up for discussion in Texas because Texas Sunset Commission, which reviews each state agency every 12 years, found in its 2022 report on TCEQ “a concerning degree of general public distrust and confusion focused on TCEQ and its ability to effectively regulate in the public interest.”
Distrust, the report said, stemmed from a lack of transparency and of opportunities for public input. Many of TCEQ’s core policies, like its target cancer risk level tucked into its 347-page toxicology guidelines, are encoded in lengthy scientific documents that had never been publicly approved.
“This scientific information must ultimately be transformed into regulatory standards,” the report said. “Deciding the acceptable level of exposure and effects on the public… is a policy decision that governs what facilities may be built, what technology they must employ, and what level of safety monitoring must occur.”
It recommended that TCEQ “affirmatively and publicly adopt these policies” and “provide opportunities for the public to make comments before the commission on what those standards should be.” The Legislature adopted the recommendation as a directive this year.
Carolyn Stone, a 62-year-old community advocate who lives nearby Houston’s industrial sector and regularly engages with the TCEQ, didn’t find out about the proposed cancer risk level until late September, when local environmental groups began to spread the word. Her area of Channelview is in the 94th percentile of cancer risk from air pollution nationally according to EPA screening tools.
Stone, a retired office worker who runs a group called Channelview Health and Improvement Coaltion, said, “TCEQ has not sent me a flyer notifying me. And you would think that as a community in that high of a percentile, we would have been some of the very first they’d attempt to notify.”
The omission didn’t surprise her. She has lived in Channelview since 1981 and persistent frustration with environmental regulators finally moved her to start her group in 2019. In public meetings with the TCEQ, Stone has told the regulators that pollution from nearby facilities harms locals’ health, and she’s asked them to require better pollution control technology on applications for new pollution permits in the area.
“Their response is basically that the companies ran their tests and according to their tests, their actions won’t be above the limits,” she said. “I really haven’t had any positive interactions with TCEQ, I’m thoroughly disappointed in them.”
Alejandra Martinez of The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.
Ars Technica, by Beth Mole, July 21, 2023
Deaths of babies born in Texas increased 11.5 percent in 2022, the year after the state banned abortion after six weeks, a period before most women know they are pregnant.
In 2022, some 2,200 infants died, according to data obtained by CNN through a public information request. That is 227 more deaths than the state saw in the previous year, before the restrictive law went into effect.
Infant deaths due to severe genetic and birth defects rose 21.6 percent.
The overall trend of more babies dying in the Lone Star State reverses a nearly 10-year decline in infant deaths there, CNN noted. Between 2014 and 2021, infant deaths in Texas had fallen nearly 15 percent.
The new grim statistics are only expected to worsen. Abortion bans and restrictions are known to increase infant deaths, maternal deaths, and maternal suffering. And the US already has the worst maternal and infant mortality rates of any other high-income country in the world.
In 2020, the maternal mortality rate overall in the US was 24 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is more than three times the rate in most other high-income countries, according to an analysis by The Commonwealth Fund. But for Black Americans, the rate is far higher—a staggering 55 per 100,000. Across the border in Canada, the rate is 8 per 100,000, and the UK sits at 6.5 per 100,000. Infant deaths in the US were also the highest of high-income countries in 2020, at 5.4 per 1,000 live births, while the average was 4.1. In Canada, the rate was 4.5 per 1,000, and in the UK, it was 3.6 per 1,000.
“We all knew the infant mortality rate would go up because many of these terminations were for pregnancies that don’t turn into healthy normal kids,” Dr. Erika Werner, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, told CNN. “It’s exactly what we all were concerned about.”
While other high-income countries have seen improvements in infant and maternal mortality rates in recent years, the US has seen declining trends. And the abortion bans and restrictions sweeping conservative states are expected to worsen the situation. Even in Texas, the declines may yet worsen in the current year because of more restrictions on abortion since 2022 began. When the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June of that year, a trigger law in the state banned abortion at all stages except in the case of medical emergencies, which are undefined.
Despite the existing body of data on the dangers of abortion restrictions and bans, lawmakers and officials in Texas this week are hearing the lived experiences of pregnant people under the bans. A group of 13 women and two doctors are suing the state, claiming that the new laws are unclear and harmful.
Samantha Casiano took the stand Wednesday to speak about her infant’s death. Casiano learned at 20 weeks into the pregnancy (when anatomical scans are performed) that her fetus was not viable due to anencephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull do not fully form. Due to Texas’ ban, she was forced to carry the pregnancy and give birth to a baby girl, whom she named Halo.
Casiano wept and vomited on the stand as she described the experience, including holding Halo in her arms and watching her slowly die, which occurred four hours after the birth. “She was gasping for air,” Casiano said. “I just kept telling myself and my baby that I’m so sorry that this has happened to you. I felt so bad. She had no mercy. There was no mercy there for her.”
Another Texas woman, Amanda Zurawski, testified about her experience of beginning to have a miscarriage at 18 weeks into a long-sought pregnancy, dooming the fetus. But due to the state’s laws, she was not able to obtain standard medical care—a prompt procedural abortion that would hasten the inevitable termination of the pregnancy to prevent complications—because the fetus still had detectable electrical pulses from cardiac cells. (Embryonic cardiac activity begins to be detectable at around week four of pregnancy, but an actual fetal heart and heartbeat do not fully develop until weeks 17 to 20). As Zurawski waited for fetal cardiac activity to fade, she developed life-threatening sepsis and spent three days in the intensive care unit. The delay in care also caused the development of scar tissue, which may prevent her from having children.
Major medical and health organization support and advocate for access to abortion, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They consider abortion “evidence-based” and “essential” health care and have described the current US bans and restrictions as an “assault” on safe medical practice.
So far, 14 states have banned most abortions, one state has a six-week ban, six states have imposed bans between 12 to 18 weeks, and five additional states have enacted bans that have been blocked, at least temporarily, by courts.
Advocates point to the following organizations that could use donations now:
- Texas Equal Access Fund provides funds and emotional support to people seeking abortion care.
- Lilith Fund is the oldest abortion fund in the state, serving patients in central and south Texas.
- Frontera Fund provides financial assistance, lodging, and transportation for patients living in the Rio Grande Valley or who have procedures scheduled at Whole Women’s Health in McAllen, Texas.
- Clinic Access Support Network provides transportation, lodging, childcare assistance, compassionate care, and occasional procedure funding to patients in Houston, Texas.
- The Afiya Center was founded by Black women in North Texas to promote the reproductive health of Black women and girls. The center’s Support Your Sistah Fund provides practical help to abortion patients.
- Fund Texas Choice helps with travel and accommodation costs for Texas residents seeking abortion care in- and out-of-state.
- The Bridge Collective provides information, transportation, accommodation, and abortion doula services.
- Buckle Bunnies Fund mobilizes across Texas to help secure funding for people seeking care. You can Venmo @Buckle-Bunnies, CashApp $BuckleBunniesFund, or shop on their website to support this fund.
- West Fund is a community organization working to create universal abortion accessibility. It provides financial assistance to patients in Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, who are seeking procedures in El Paso, Texas, or New Mexico.
- Jane’s Due Process provides reproductive health resources, legal aid, and case management to help young Texans navigate parental consent laws and confidentially access abortion and birth control.
- The Stigma Relief Fund provides financial help to Whole Woman’s Health patients.
This list was compiled by Bustle on September 9, 2021. It may contain outdated information.
Dangerous oil trains moving along Texas gulf coastline – 30,000 barrels per day
Crude Summit: Valero grows Mexico rail flowsBy Sergio Meana & Elliot Blackburn, Argus Media, 04 February 2020
The US independent refiner reached into the recently-opened Mexican market through a combination of joint ventures with local partners and building out its own storage infrastructure, Gorder said during the Argus Americas Crude Summit in Houston, Texas. Valero railed gasoline and diesel from its Texas refineries, including four along the coast and its landlocked 200,000 b/d McKee refinery in the Texas Panhandle.
The company has six fuel storage agreements that give the company 5.8mn bl of storage capacity in Mexico, but fuel pipeline capacity is still constrained in the country and mostly only used by state-owned Pemex.
“We invested in some terminal assets,” Gorder said. “We have got joint ventures around several, and we are actually railing a lot of barrels into Mexico rather than waiting for the pipeline infrastructure to be built.”
Franchisees opened the first Valero-branded retail fuel station in Mexico last week, Gorder said, with two more now opened since. Valero in Mexico said it plans to open 15 retail fuel stations in the next three months.
For Gorder the US Gulf coast is the most efficient refined product center as it has an able and affordable workforce, access to feedstocks and multiple transportation options.
“We have got all the advantages to be a supplier to the world,” Gorder said. “It is going to be some time before [Mexico] will be able to satisfy their own demands if ever. And so it is a logical, natural market for us.”
Valero exported 343,000 b/d of fuels in 2019 to all markets.
Repost from KSLA 12 News
Crews work to clear Texarkana train derailmentBy Brett Kaprelian, Digital Content Producer, April 22nd 2018, 4:35 pm PDT
TEXARKANA, TX (KSLA) -Crews are working to clear a train derailment in Texarkana, Texas, Sunday afternoon.
It happened around 11:30 a.m. at the Union Pacific Texarkana Rail Yard.
A Union Pacific spokesman said the southbound train that derailed had 12 tank cars carrying crude oil from Canada down to Beaumont, Texas.
Nine cars are on their side and three are standing upright.
No injuries or leaks have been reported.
Crews are on site trying to clear the trains from the roadway.
According to the Union Pacific spokesman, the train tracks have been damaged by the derailment. Crews will work through the night to clear the scene and fix the tracks.