April 2019 Volume 2, Issue 4
Environmental Justice News
The Environmental Justice Team at Lone Star Legal Aid welcomes you to Environmental Justice News. We’re keeping communities updated on our team’s ongoing environmental law efforts throughout our 72-county service area in Texas.

In our newsletter, you’ll find an overview of the types of legal cases we’re currently handling for eligible individuals and organizations who are living in fence-line communities and other areas where environmental justice is a concern. If you have an environmental legal matter that concerns you, please
call 713-652-0077 ext. 8108 for more information on how we might be able to help your neighborhood!

Our environmental justice team is part of a broader Equitable Development Initiative at LSLA, with additional teams focusing on fair housing and community advocacy. The Equitable Development Initiative’s goal is to provide legal assistance to foster community revitalization in low-income neighborhoods by fighting systemic discrimination and degradation, and by helping residents create safe, decent and equitable living spaces.

Please feel free to forward this newsletter about Lone Star Legal Aid’s new environmental watchdogs with your friends, family and neighbors! To subscribe to our newsletter and/or receive updates about your neighborhood, click here .

Amy Dinn
Managing Attorney, Environmental Justice Team
Lone Star Legal Aid Presents Community-Specific Information on ITC Disaster to Pleasantville Civic League

On Sunday, March 17, 2019 at approximately 10am, a storage tank caught fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) Deer Park facility, located at 1943 Independence Parkway. Industry neighbors and multiple local agencies actively fought the fire to prevent it from spreading and to extinguish it as quickly as possible. As of early Wednesday morning, March 20, the fire had been extinguished, but raised the threat of additional community exposures to benzene and other volatile organic compounds detected by stationary and mobile air monitors employed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, because of a breach in the containment wall around the tank farm, the water quality surrounding the facility from Tucker Bayou into the Houston Ship Channel has been compromised with at least nine different toxins detected through initial water sampling results. The response action to this disaster continues prompting still more questions for community members as to not only what the short-term impacts were on the health of their community, but potential long-term public impacts of this disaster that is still unfolding.

In an effort to provide some information to impacted environmental justice communities on the potential impacts of the ITC Deer Park Disaster, LSLA’s Environmental Justice team has created a presentation that can be tailored to specific communities who want to learn more about how this recent industrial accident may have impacted them and Harris County as a whole. On April 2, 2019, Amy Dinn, Managing Attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid, first made this presentation to over 100 community members at the monthly membership meeting of the Pleasantville Civic League on the recent ITC Deer Park Disaster that started in Harris County on Sunday, March 17, 2019. The presentation outlined the timeline for the disaster and the major events that had occurred since the fire first broke out at ITC’s Deer Park facility a month ago.

In addition to providing an overview of the disaster and ongoing cleanup activities, Dinn provided specific information on the levels of NOx, PM2.5, PM10, VOCs likely experienced by the community of Pleasantville during the first week of the event, so that neighbors would understand their exposure levels. Pollutant levels were gathered using publicly available air monitoring data from a stationary monitor located approximately two miles from the community, which is currently the best available information. In recent months, the Pleasantville community has been working in partnership with the City of Houston and EDF to develop a community plan for increasing the number of air monitors in their neighborhood. Such efforts will help this community be more prepared to capture real time air quality data in the event of another disaster.

During the presentation, Dinn also explained the recent enforcement actions filed by the Attorney General’s office and Harris County against ITC and answered community questions regarding the ongoing disaster response as water sampling and air monitoring continue near ITC’s facility in the impacted area. Water sample results are still being processed to determine whether there will be any long-term impacts to the water supply from this disaster.

If your community organization is interested in having a presentation put together on the ITC Deer Park Disaster that is specific to your neighborhood, please contact our Environmental Justice Team. An example of the presentation provided to Pleasantville is now available on Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice Resources page associated with LSLA’s Equitable Development Initiative.
Top: A fire at ITC chemical storage tank facility burns on March 18, 2019 / Photo: KPRC Click2Houston News, video capture
Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC) Expresses Concern over Valero Houston
Title V Operating Permit

Last month, Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC) requested a public hearing and submitted public comments to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding an operating permit under Title V of the Clean Air Act for Valero Houston’s Manchester refinery, which is seeking to renew and amend its permit. Represented by Lone Star Legal Aid Attorney Colin Cox, CPC is concerned about the threats to public health, safety, and air quality that this permit poses to the surrounding Manchester community.

Intended as an overall operating permit that consolidates the monitoring, record keeping, and compliance requirements for all of a facility’s individual Air Quality permits, Title V permits allow state regulators and the public to better understand the requirements for each piece of the equipment in a facility. Title V permits also describe the terms that TCEQ or the public can use to bring enforcement actions against a given facility. Aside from these conveniences, however, LSLA’s Colin Cox says that Title V permits can be problematic. “The Title V permit is about accountability, and should detail all the regulations that govern this refinery. But many of the relevant rules are missing from this permit, so it is unclear whether Valero is following the law or if it even knows what the appropriate laws are,” said Cox. “We are talking about laws meant to protect people from toxic chemical exposure and industrial disaster, so it’s important to get this right.”

In the midst of multiple industrial facilities on Houston’s East End, Manchester community members live in the shadows of the Valero Houston refinery, which emits hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic air pollutants per year into their neighborhood. In a March 20th letter to TCEQ, Caring for Pasadena Communities urged the agency to allow residents the opportunity to have a public hearing on Valero Manchester’s Title V permit, requesting Spanish translation services as well for the majority Spanish-speaking community. Living for many years in Manchester before moving to Pasadena for the sake of her family's health, founder and Director of Caring for Pasadena Communities Patricia Gonzales wants to see Valero and TCEQ take responsibility for ensuring the public health and safety of the community. "They haven't been good stewards to this neighborhood or community," shared Gonzales.

In 100 pages of detailed comments submitted to TCEQ March 26th, CPC along with LSLA community partners Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.), Sierra Club (Lone Star Chapter), Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), and Earthjustice said that Valero’s Title V permit application does not adequately reflect or incorporate the amendments the company has proposed. Nor does the permit add the terms and conditions necessary to assure compliance with important public health and safety requirements, they said. The groups pointed out multiple issues with the permit, including:
 
  • The permit fails to detail new fenceline monitoring requirements for benzene, despite an enormous benzene release from a faulty tank at the refinery during Hurricane Harvey.
  • Emissions calculations for numerous pollution sources were missing from the permit. TCEQ merely referenced separate documents that were unavailable to commenters even after multiple requests were made to the agency for the documents.
  • A required flare management plan and other important requirements for flares were missing from the permit.
  • The permit neglects to incorporate all the requirements of the Risk Management Program, including a 2017 update known as the Chemical Disaster Rule.
  • No compliance schedule was included with the permit - a requirement resulting from previous enforcement actions by TCEQ on Valero Houston.
  • Monitoring and reporting requirements for the permit were inadequate - allowing unlawfully high limits of pollutants to be emitted during startup, shutdown and maintenance of the facility.

CPC and community partners are awaiting a response from the agency on their comments, which could take several months. “The communities surrounding this refinery have endured elevated levels of cancer-causing air pollution for decades,” said Cox, “They deserve the same clean air protections that most Texans enjoy, and these comments are an attempt to secure those protections.”
Above: Valero Houston emits hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic pollution per year from its facility near homes, schools, and a park in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston's East End / Photo: Lone Star Legal Aid
Top: A view of Valero Houston from Hartman Park in Manchester / Photo: Lone Star Legal Aid
EJ Team Cleans Up Kuhlman Gully Near Brays Bayou

On Saturday, March 30, 2019, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice Team organized and participated in the largest, single-day waterway cleanup in the state of Texas, the River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash®, by hosting its own cleanup site on Kuhlman Gully, a tributary of Brays Bayou in the East End of Houston. Now in its 26 th year, River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash® is a partnership between the Houston-Galveston Area Council and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) hosting cleanups at sixteen sites along the Galveston Bay Watershed with an average attendance of 4,000+ volunteers annually. The event is partially financed through TCEQ by grants from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Trash Bash® is also an approved recipient for TCEQ Supplemental Environmental Project funds.

LSLA’s team of 15 volunteers, including two members of the Environmental Law Society of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, collected over 400 lbs. of trash,  140 lbs. of recyclable materials, and 4 tires at the site after a few hours of work. These efforts transformed the space from a trash “hot spot” for storm debris into a restored scenic area as part of the City of Houston’s Gragg Park near the Parks and Recreation Department's East End headquarters just off S. Wayside and I-45 South.
In an effort to help communities reduce trash in their local watersheds, the EPA launched its Trash-Free Waters program last year. Trash Free Texas, a related program, now has a website where you can adopt-a-spot to keep clean, post pictures, and organize local cleanups at the site. Kuhlman Gully has been selected as an "adopted spot" for Trash Free Texas because of its natural trash collection properties, occurring when water levels change in the 1.09 mile-long gully as the tidally-influenced Brays Bayou ebbs and flows. The gully naturally pulls debris out of Brays Bayou before it flows into Buffalo Bayou, the Houston Ship Channel, and on to Galveston Bay. 

EJ Team member Samantha Salas said of the event, “I really enjoyed attending the 2019 River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash®. It was a great way for me to help the environment. At first glance of the site on Kuhlman Gully I couldn’t see its beauty, but after the volunteers and I were finished picking up all the trash it was pretty obvious how lovely this area could be. It was a good feeling to know that I played a role in restoring this area back to its original beauty.”

TSU Extern Reese Selman added, “People often forget that they are part of nature, too. The 2019 Trash Bash is an amazing event that enables volunteers to rekindle this lost connection to the natural world. My second year in attendance helped grow my already existing appreciation for the value of local wildlife and the critical role it plays in the healthy ecosystem on which we all depend. It's a breathtaking opportunity to re-discover and aid the wildlife that lives in our own neighborhoods. By getting to know the wildlife at our doorsteps, in our cities, parks, and wild places, we can perhaps start to appreciate the value of all living species, whatever they look like and wherever they live. I look forward to the next Trash Bash event and the opportunity to further revitalize our beautiful world!”

We hope you will join us in 2020 for the next Trash Bash®.
Above: LSLA EJ volunteers gather with trash collected at Kuhlman Gully during the 2019 Trash Bash / Photo: Sal Giovanni Solis
Top: Signage for the 2019 River, Lakes, Bays 'N Bayous Trash Bash / Photo: Sal Giovanni Solis
Group Client Spotlight: IMPACT Raises Awareness of Legacy Creosote Contamination in Houston's Fifth Ward

"They say the contamination is fifty feet down, but every time it rains, it bubbles up.” One of the founding members of the Impact community group, Sandra Small recently addressed a small crowd of residents at True Love Baptist Church in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward, where for over 100 years, creosote operations from the now defunct Houston Wood Preserving Works contaminated residential groundwater and soil in this historically underserved neighborhood near Liberty Road. “My entire street died of cancer,” shared Impact member Leisa Harris Glenn, “My mother died of cancer before retirement age. She did not even get to see her retirement. "

Like Glenn, Small wants community members to be able to connect the dots on health impacts from the creosote contamination – impacts that have hit close to home in this community. In the past year alone, Small’s own son died from cancer at the age of 52, and her closest friend, also an Impact member and nearby resident, died of stomach cancer just weeks after her son passed away.

Small and her family lived for many years in a house that bordered the creosoting facility where her husband worked. Since moving to Humble a number of years ago, Small maintains strong ties to the Fifth Ward, where family members still live. Suffering from her own health issues including pancreatic failure, Small first began reaching out to former neighbors in 2016, when she learned about the groundwater contamination plume through Lone Star Legal Aid's Rodrigo Cantú . Cantú was first introduced to Small and other affected community members through the Reverend James Caldwell of C.O.C.O. and LSLA's community partner, Texas Housers .

Wanting to do more for their community, residents joined forces to form the Impact group in May 2018, with Small and her son Andre along with Robert Lewis, Keyarra Price, and Bertha Jackson as the group’s founding members. Focused on Union Pacific’s cleanup of the contamination as its number one priority, the group has grown over the past year, now naming eight current and former residents as members.

Through Cantú, the group learned about an opportunity to oppose the renewal of Union Pacific’s Hazardous Waste Permit, also known as a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit. Represented by Cantu, Impact submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in December 2018 as part of the RCRA public participation process. In 36 pages of detailed comments to the agency, the group noted multiple issues with the permit and requested a contested case hearing on the permit, which they say fails to protect the health of their community and the surrounding environment.
 
For over 100 years, Houston Wood Preserving Works treated railroad ties and telephone poles in vast uncovered pits of creosote at the site, now known as Englewood Intermodal Yard. Soaked in carcinogenic creosote, railroad ties and telephone poles would routinely be stacked along nearby streets. Children would play on the creosote-covered poles, not knowing of the health hazards. After a rain or flood, runoff from the creosote would flow into neighborhood yards and ditches where crawfish were sometimes caught and eaten. An oily rainbow-colored sheen could be seen on puddles and ditches. Residents recall the strong smell of creosote vapors filling the air. “We had to walk across those tracks every day to get to school and catch the bus,” shared one resident, “We lived right there.”

At the age of two, Impact member Sandra Edwards' daughter developed severe allergies and asthma that dramatically improved when she moved away from the neighborhood for two years, only to return as soon as she moved back. "She would wake up with her eyes so swollen," shared Edwards.

After a huge explosion and fire at the site in the 1980's, community members began to notice a spike in cancers that seems to have continued to the present day. The groups’ concerns over the contamination and advocacy work with LSLA were highlighted in a recent Houston Chronicle article .
 
Concerned about potential health effects of the contamination, Impact recently engaged with advocates and scientists from Texas Health and Environmental Alliance (THEA) and Texas Southern University about conducting a health survey. The group hopes that information collected through the survey could help inform a cancer cluster investigation by Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) – an obligation the state has to look into community concerns over cancer spikes. 
 
At the meeting, Jackie Young of THEA talked about her experiences with another cancer cluster investigation, in the northeast Harris County community of Highlands, Texas, where the San Jacinto River Waste Pits contaminated nearby residential groundwater with highly toxic dioxin. The state found elevated cancer rates in 14 out of 17 different types of cancer in that study. “While information from a cancer cluster investigation won’t tell you everything, it can form an important piece of the puzzle,” shared Young.
 
Through its monthly meetings, Impact has been helping community members understand their legal rights and stay up-to-date on the RCRA permit. Recent outreach efforts include a door-to-door block walk over Spring Break. Reaching out to Spanish-speaking neighbors as well, the group provides translation services at its meetings with the help of LSLA staff Cantu and Sal Giovanni Solis. Impact plans continue its advocacy and outreach efforts in the coming year. Documenting stories from longtime residents about living near the creosote facility, the group recently shared a new video on its Facebook page

On April 11 th , the TCEQ sent out a 4 th Notice of Deficiency (NOD) to Union Pacific. The agency noted several new concerns regarding the RCRA permit, including:

  • The groundwater plume was found to have migrated 200 feet to the north/northeast, and is now affecting nine additional properties not accounted for by Union Pacific;
  • The current well systems fail to properly monitor the contamination, and thus the installation of new monitoring wells is needed;
  • The possibility that soil vapors from the plume could be affecting residential homes must be assessed; and
  • TCEQ noted that Union Pacific’s current recovery of DNAPL is inadequate. TCEQ suggested that Union Pacific consider improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its DNAPL recovery system with additional measures, such as adding more recovery wells or conducting more frequent extraction of DNAPL.

Union Pacific has 30 days to respond to this additional NOD. Anticipating these updates, Impact plans to share the news with community members. The group intends to make a difference - not just for this generation, but for future generations of Fifth Ward residents. “We want to see Union Pacific’s contamination cleaned up so that our children and our grandchildren can grow up to be healthy,” said Small, “We want the contamination cleaned up so that people here will stop getting cancer and skin diseases from the creosote.”
Above left: Above right: A slide presentation listing some of the many hazardous chemicals found in creosote / Photo: Rebecca Novak
Above right: Community members gather at a recent IMPACT meeting / Photo: Sal Giovanni Solis
Top: Leisa Harris Glenn talks with community members about her experiences growing up near Union Pacific's Englewood Yard / Photo: Rebecca Novak
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!

LSLA's EJ team will be at the following public outreach events:
 
Monday, April 29 - Impact community meeting, True Love Baptist Church, 4029 Falls Street, 77026, 6 - 8pm
 
City of Houston Climate Action Plan events:

Thursday, May 2 – CoH Climate Action Plan, Northeast Multi-Service Center, 9720 Spaulding, 77016, 6 - 8pm
 
For more information on any of these presentations or upcoming meetings, please contact our EJ Team at 713-652-0077 ext. 8108.
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