House Shopping in the Chemical Discount Zones: Finding Houston’s Less-Toxic Neighborhoods

HOUSE SHOPPING IN THE CHEMICAL DISCOUNT ZONES: FINDING HOUSTON’S LESS-TOXIC NEIGHBORHOODS “A commenter on your blog who says he works at a chemical plant recently wrote that a neighborhood 1 mile from a chemical plant ‘is never going to be an “OK” neighborhood.’ Is there a single citywide map that shows where all these plants are, so I can find a place to live accordingly? And how far do I have to be from a chemical plant to be ‘OK’? 5 miles? 20? I presume there’s no absolute answer. But there’s got to be a de facto ‘discount’ on homes in neighborhoods that are within certain radiuses of the toxic stuff, right? If so, how far do the discount zones extend? Could someone draw that map for me?” [Swamplot inbox]

21 Comment

  • LOL!

    Well, considering anything that may be toxic is along the ship channel, just go north, south, or west of downtown and you’ll be fine.

  • Yes, there are many good neighborhoods in Canada.

  • kjb, does that mean you think downtown itself is in a discount zone?

  • They should also have maps of defunct or razed chemical and oil plants in order not to build near or on top of them.

    The area south of 610 South and west of 288 is a brown zone. Hope the developers don’t forget that. I’d be interested how those chemicals are pluming through that area.

  • Who is this person?? Obviously they aren’t from anywhere around here! I mean, sure, you wouldn’t want to necessarily live that close to a power plant, but a lot of people here do. And the fact is that even living inside the loop or other areas you wouldn’t normally think of as being less than a mile from a chemical plant are probably still close to something just as potentially hazardous. Get over yourself!

  • i think it just depends on how you frame his comment. odds are if an explosion is going to be bad enough to take out a mile radius then the odds are just as likely it could take out a 10+ mile radius so i wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s dangerous to live close to the plants.

    however, any areas in near distance of the plants are typically working class neighborhoods (or will eventually turn into this) and taking into account wage trends for this sector that means these neighborhoods will only become poorer relative to the “professional” neighborhoods. these areas will also see fewer investments compared to other areas thus stunting their growth (which is probably more of a positive these days).

  • I’ve studied the issue and even once put an offer down for a house in Morgan’s Point, which for those that don’t know, is where the Houston Ship Channel empties into Galveston Bay. The little municipality also abuts the Barbour’s Cut Container Terminal and is within a mile or two of the nearest chemical plant.

    My investigation of epidemiological data indicated that to the extent that airborne carcinogens could be an issue, they mostly just affect children…and even that wasn’t a damning correlation. There was no Superfund site nearby and they get their water out of the Trinity River rather from anywhere remotely near a chemical plant. It goes without saying that upper Galveston Bay isn’t for swimming or eating from (dioxins!), but I wasn’t planning on doing that anyway.

    Is there a discount? Hell yes! And it’s for lots of reasons: 1) real or perceived pollution, 2) real or perceived high crime, 3) low elevations, 4) higher property insurance rates, 5) fewer nearby white collar jobs, and 6) living there indicates to snobs that you’ve got a low social status.

    Most of the discount is unwarranted, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at Clear Lake City; parts of it are only about 1.5 miles from the nearest chemical plants. It was developed upon depleted oil fields and is adjacent to still-active fields. (It was developed by a subsidiary of Exxon!) It’s adjacent to an airport. It has a low elevation. But all that stuff is out of sight, out of mind, and so there’s no stigma.

  • I’m the one that made the comment. Yes there are plenty of places around here that aren’t 1 mile from a major chemical plant. duh…

  • Most of the discount is unwarranted, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy
    TheNiche is right. The danger from living close to a chemical plant is remote. The property values are hurt by percieved danger. Chemical plants do house very dangerous things though. Sometimes there are problems… see the Bhopal disaster. I’d much rather live 1 mile from a nuclear plant.

  • Just to be clear, just because I can’t find something utterly damning about ship channel pollution doesn’t mean that it isn’t bad for you. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    If I had a kid and wanted to live east of Houston for some reason, I’d probably go for rural Chambers County. (Even then, I’d be cautious about former oilfields, but I’d be cautious about that along most of the Gulf Coast.)

  • Who is this person?? Obviously they aren’t from anywhere around here! I mean, sure, you wouldn’t want to necessarily live that close to a power plant, but a lot of people here do. And the fact is that even living inside the loop or other areas you wouldn’t normally think of as being less than a mile from a chemical plant are probably still close to something just as potentially hazardous. Get over yourself!

    Claire, why wouldn’t you want to live near a power plant? They are not near as dangerous as chemical plants.

    I am from around here. I’ve worked in these plants and I know exactly what is inside them. I had someone come tell me that 15 of my co-workers were just killed at the BP plant so don’t worry about the work you were doing for them anymore.

  • Ask the folks in Bhopal about living by the plant.

  • I grew up in Lake Jackson. For all practical purposes just across the highway from Dow Chemical Plant B. No one worries all that much about a big explosion leaving a ten-mile, or even a half-mile crater. The last and only significant explosion I remember at Dow was a railroad tank car in December 1967. What we did and do worry about is a toxic gas release. Toluene di-iso-cyanate or chlorine or something like that.

  • “without chemicals, life itself would be impossible”

    I think history shows that we can put our trust in multi-national chemical companies and their independent judgement as to what is safe and what isn’t. After all, they’re the experts, and we don’t want the intrusive government meddling.

    Obama – keep away from our acid pits, toxic waste dumps and “whoops !” flares.
    Also, that elevated incidence of respiratory issues, i.e., asthma, among east-end school kids could be explained by, among other things, pollen. After all, in the absence of smoking gun evidence (kinda hard, on an epidemielogical basis, to nail it down, you know) we’ll not change a thing.

    BTW, can I get a silent prayer for those poor folks “living” in Manchester, TX ?

    This is one area where “conservative/libertarian” types are tragically wrong.

    To try and offer an answer to the original question: After researching/excluding previously mentioned “outlying” sites, I’d avoid the area N. of NASA and east of I-45 to at least downtown. Then, I’d stay about 10 miles north of I-10 East as it parallels the ship channel.
    If I had young kids, I’d push the boundary further.
    Not that I don’t trust…

  • Basically everything east and southeast of downtown is not for the faint of heart. Chemical plants, pipelines, active oil and gas wells. You name, it’s there. What hasn’t been developed in the Clear Lake/Friendswood area in some cases is because no one wants anyone to know how contaminated it is.

    But then everything south of the Astrodome isn’t exactly “pristine” and “virgin” starting with one of the largest LPG storage “tanks” about a mile south of the Astrodome. In an old salt dome. If there were ever a leak and it drifted north, well, as some in the Brenham area found out, suddenly, you’re a crispy critter.

    Then there’s “old” 288. Lots of pipelines. And not just oil and gas. There’s one benzene line adjacent to the Lake Olympia subdivision. People rarely read the little signs. They just assume it’s oil or gas. There’s also the LPG line that feeds the “tank” south of the Astrodome and I believe others as well. Runs through Fondren SW and Westbury.

    Pipelines are perfectly safe. Until something happens. And then suddenly they’re not so safe. As some have found when they have found, suddenly, that they are crispy critters.

    Montrose and part of the Heights is probably ok. Although you never know about the years of mechanics dumping used oil in “oil pits” on vacant lots that were built on before the EPA said “no, no” or the dry cleaners who dumped the chemicals as well. The later a problem at one point in the Memorial area. One dry cleaner as I recall just pouring it all down the drain. And into the sewers. Which in heavy rains deposited it back onto the streets. And in some cases, into yards.

    The worst, really, is the air. It drifts, as they say. And sometimes West Houston has the most polluted air. Depending on the weather. And the wind.

    Welcome to Houston.

  • Matt, air pollution will generally drift east with out weather patterns. West Houston air pollution is much lower than east Houston.

  • Good post, Matt.

    As to the wind, our “refinery air” regularly combines with the DFW regular brew, so that areas 250 miles away are affected by our “Texas-rich” air. EPA not happy with Dallas!

    Of course, I find that kind of funny.
    Filthy ‘ol Dallas. Schadenfraude!

  • kjb434: East Houston has fairly specific air pollution issues related to heavy industry, but other parts of town frequently have to deal with course particulates from all the land development, construction, traffic, and just natural conditions.

    Udunno: I would like for you to cite sources on your claims that incidences of asthma are higher near the Ship Channel and also about how air from both Houston and Dallas is somehow co-mingling at concentrations that would be considered statistically significant; I don’t think that weather patterns would allow for that.

  • To jgriff: I was probably in a bad mood yesterday, and I apologize. Like Matt, I probably also should have just said welcome to Houston–city living at its finest. :) Hope you find a decent place to live. Some of us long-time Houstonians tend to kind of not think about the pollution anymore because it gets scary if we consider it for more than a few minutes.

  • Jersey Village and many areas/subdivisions of NW Houston are also built former oil fields and refinery sites. Houston Press ran a great story a few years ago on finding high levels of toxic materials in a NW Houston suburb. It was built on a former Chevron site but after multiple ownership of the property, the developer did not do dig deep into the land onwership.

    And this where I really hate the Title Company insurance cartel scam requirement when buying a property!!

  • Irfan, that was the Fairbanks field.

    Matt Mystery, The Astrodome is ~1 mile north of the old Pierce Junction Oil Field. Most of the area is industrial, but there are homes along the perimeter of the field where Glenn McCarthy, who later built the Shamrock Hotel, made his first millions.

    Here’s a link to a 1956 TIME magazine article about the field and issues regarding growth of Houston versus industrial development.,9171,891789,00.html

    If anyone reads the article, I believe the dump it refers to is now a golf course. There are methane candy canes all around it.

    This is to say nothing of the Humble area. If anyone can find any old aerial photos of Humble online, let me know. I’ve seen them in the past and would like to do an overlay of current use versus prior use.