SMELLING BLIND IN THE EAST END A possible cause of the nasty smells that causedÂ East End residents headaches, sore and scratchy throats, and itchy eyes as Hurricane Harvey approached and inundated the area? Houston-area industrial plants in the last week released more than 2.25 million pounds of emissions above legal limits, according to an Environment Texas tally of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality data. The reason: plant shutdowns before the onset of the storm and startups after it left.Â “So far,” writes Emily Atkin, “TCEQ has not indicated these events have triggered health impacts. . . . TCEQ Media Relations Manager Andrea Miller told me the agency or local emergency officials would contact residents if an immediate health threat were to occur. Whatâ€™s more, Miller said companies were probably reporting higher emissions that what actually occurred, ‘since underreporting can result in higher penalties.‘ Itâ€™s unclear, however, how TCEQ would check many of the companiesâ€™ reports, since the agency turned off all its air quality monitors in the Houston area before Harvey hit. Miller confirmed as much on Monday, saying devices were either turned off or removed â€œto protect against damage or loss of these sensitive and expensive instruments.â€ [The New Republic] Photo of ExxonMobil Baytown refinery: Louis Vest [license]
ELYSIAN VIADUCT WORK UNEARTHS HISTORIC HOUSTON HERITAGE TRASH PILE The real value of theÂ long-buried dump uncovered by the ongoing replacement of the Elysian St. bridge over I-10 and Buffalo Bayou, write Doug Boyd and Jason Barrett this week in the Chronicle, is in the opportunity it provides “to document the often-unwritten parts of our industrial heritage.” The dump, apparentlyÂ built upÂ overÂ the early half of the 1900s in a former gully, serves as a springboard for the authors toÂ talk trash — Houston, they write, was one of the first cities to adopt widespread municipalÂ garbage incineration, and lagged decades behind as most cities chose toÂ stopÂ doing itÂ out of concern forÂ public health.Â Spots like the one under Elysian St., they add, help fill in the gaps of knowledge ofÂ what happened to all the other trash that didn’t end up in a city incinerator or landfill —Â and whoÂ tended to liveÂ nearby. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Â Photos: Adam J Williams
The fire that started late yesterday afternoon at theÂ Holmes Road Recycling Center (just west of 288 south ofÂ 610) is still onÂ the Houston Fire Department’s list of active incidentsÂ at the moment, after about 19 hours. Â KHOU reports that the firefighting has been complicated by the need to cool off the heat-retaining piles of burning scrap metal on the scene, as well as a lack of water supply in the industrial patchwork around Pierce Junction. Hazmat crews reportedly say there’s no out-of-the-ordinary chemicalÂ concerns related toÂ the smoke this time, thoughÂ HFD captain Ruy Lozana did note toÂ KHOU last night that the smoke’sÂ strong smellÂ and darker color is probably fromÂ leftover fluids in crushed cars catching fire.
Wind coming primarily from the south and southeast pushed smoke and haze from theÂ fireÂ across 610 all the way toÂ the Texas Medical Center, some 3 miles north. Nearby Rice University sent out an alert around 4:45 warning folks with respiratory issues to stay indoors for a bit — below is a view (from several hours after that warning) of the hazeÂ from the Rice campus parking lot on Greenbriar, east of the stadium:
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Blowing In the Wind
The field above, on the block between W. 24th, W. 25th, Ashland and Rutland streets in the Heights, will be the subject of aÂ public meeting next month, a reader who got a letter about it from the city notes toÂ Swamplot. The land (an also-ran in the Best Teardown category for the 2010 Swampies) was previously the site of some ofÂ National Flame & Forge’s operations, whichÂ extended into the double blockÂ immediately to the north (now sprouting the townhomes visible in the distance). The owners have spent some time in the last few years taking stock ofÂ someÂ industrial leftoversÂ on the property, and are now seeking aÂ Municipal Settings Designation for the land, which will legally nix any future use of the site’s chromium-and-trichloroethylene-spiked groundwater for drinking purposes.
The letter, addressed to nearby property owners and water-well-havers, emphasizes that no city water sourcesÂ are affected by the contamination, and adds thatÂ the city is alsoÂ legally requiredÂ to send theÂ meeting inviteÂ to anyone who owns a water well within 5 miles of the site.Â TheÂ map belowÂ is included withÂ the application from NFF RealtyÂ for the no-drinking label;Â theÂ aerialÂ shows the roughÂ boundaries of areas where water sampling over 2014 and 2015 showed more-than-you-want-in-your-coffee levels of chromium (in red) and trichloroethylene (in yellow):
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Yesterday’s entry in Houston’s recurringÂ game ofÂ what’s-that-mysterious-black-cloudÂ was brought to you by LyondellBasell’s Pasadena refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. (the same one thatÂ caught fire back in early April). The shot above was taken from an overpass near the junction of Loop 610 with Hwy. 225, though for parts of the afternoonÂ the trailÂ was visible from at least 7 miles away at the Hilton Americas building downtown. A LyondellBasell spokesperson tells Swamplot that flaring was triggered just before noon after a CalpineÂ facility sendingÂ steam toÂ the refinery lost power, reportedly due toÂ a lightning strike.Â The company sent a message to the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association’sÂ emergency response info hotlineÂ statingÂ that observers “may notice a bright orange flame, black smoke or a rumbling noise,” but that it wasÂ no big deal, and no one inÂ nextdoorÂ Manchester or Deer ParkÂ needed to do anything like leave orÂ tape their windows shut this time.
Photo:Â Michael Muguerza viaÂ t.e.j.a.s.
Pasadena Smoke Signals
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW ASTRODOME DÃ‰JÃ€-VU COULD FUEL THE NEXT HOUSTON BOOM AND BUST “We shouldnâ€™t have aÂ [tourism]Â industry because itâ€™s cyclical? HelloÂ —Â oil industry? Thatâ€™s the epitome of a cyclical industry. But I do agree with Memebag: Our climateÂ absolutely sucks for an outdoor tourism industry, not to mention being the only city Iâ€™ve ever seen that had all the pollution of a deepwater port with none of the scenery. If only we had a gigantic, air conditioned space that could hold an amusement parkÂ . . .” [Chris C., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston Is Not Here For Your Entertainment]Â Photo of 2007Â carnival inside the Astrodome:Â Jeff Balke
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOME IS WHERE THE CHEMICAL WASTE IS “I lived there from 1984-1990, from 2nd to 7th grade. I remember there being a ton of empty houses by the end. They never finished the neighborhood either, given that the problems occurred and people knew about it by the end. Youâ€™d have entire streets with 4 or 5 houses on it. My friends and I would play baseball, or football in those empty lots. Weâ€™d hit baseballs through windows of abandoned homes, and itâ€™d be a dare to â€˜go into that ghost houseâ€™ to get the ball back.
I remember going back in 1993 or so, and the entire place was empty, boarded up. It was sad. My dad and I hopped the fence and walked back to where our house was. We were there for about 5 minutes when the police came and wanted to know what the hell we were doing. Apparently, itâ€™d become a place for squatters.
By 1995 the entire neighborhood was bulldozed to the ground. Now just an empty field. Yes, my dad lost a ton on that house. But we were part of that settlement that is mentioned. Paid for a small portion of my college, will pay for a tiny portion of my kidsâ€™ college. We were lucky in that I didnâ€™t have any defects (that I know of), and my sister seems alright as well, though she had severe migraines at the time. It was a weird situation, especially for a 7-12 year old. But, I didnâ€™t know it was ‘oddâ€™ at the time. I just thought that it was cool, that I could break a window, or climb into a back yard to get a ball back, at a house that sat empty for 4 years. I thought it was ‘normal.â€™” [Matt, commenting on My Toxic Houston Childhood] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOLLOW THE SMOG “You do not escape smog in Houston by moving to the burbs. In the summer, Houston has a circular wind pattern that takes ship channel pollutants for a ride out to the suburbs. Go to the Houston Clean Air Network website and set the animation for Aug. 6, 2012. You will see a big area of ozone form over the ship channel that gets blown out to Pearland, then Sugar Land and spends the late afternoon in Cinco Ranch and just east of Katy before starting to drift back east. The worst of the smog slides south of the City and never really gets north of I-10 inside the loop. Ship channel industries account for about 2/3rds of the smog. The rest is motor vehicle emissions. Ship channel industries have made significant progress in reducing and controlling emissions. But more sprawl and more traffic threaten to offset the progress made on the ship channel. Thus, the smog issue is a very real consequence of sprawl that is not escaped by sprawl either.” [Old School, commenting onÂ Holding Back on That Downtown Hotel Push; The Beer Garden, Greenhouse, and Food Court Growing in Prohibitionâ€™s Basement] Image: Houston Clean Air Network
Inspired by reading RenÃ© Steinke’s new and recently optioned-for-film novel Friendswood, the plot of which centers on the aftermath of the Brio Superfund mess just south of I-45 and the Beltway, Cite magazine’s Allyn West returns to the former chemical waste facility at Dixie Farm Rd. and Beamer Rd. to snap some photos and have a look around: “The first thing you pass is a landfill. And then, incongruously, you pass archetypal subdivisions with bucolic names, much like Southbend must have been. Thereâ€™s a dedicated bike lane on both sides of Dixie Farm, clearly marked and freshly painted. Then turning toward the site onto Blackhawk Boulevard, you pass Ashley Pointe, a new subdivision. That morning, I saw construction workers milling about around unfinished stick frames. If Southbend still existed, Ashley Pointe would sit right next to it.”
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE LIMITS OF EASTWARD DEVELOPMENT “With every mile moving east, you are getting nearer to Houstonâ€™s gigantic petrochemical industrial complex, along with its unpredictable environmental and public health issues, which begin just about a mile east of Eastwood (for example, look at the location of identified Superfund Sites in Harris County, . . . which gives a clear picture). This is the main reason why people in Houston, and those who can afford it, stay as much west as possible. . . . ” [Larry, commenting on Comment of the Day: What’s the Scoop on Eastwood?] Illustration: Lulu
W. A. PARISH PLANT ONE OF THE WORST POLLUTERS IN THE COUNTRY, FINDS REPORT According to a new study published byÂ Environment America, NRG Energy’s coal-firingÂ W. A. Parish Electric Generating Plant, on Smithers Lake outside of Richmond, is really good at being dirty. Though the plant has been messing around with a way to clean itself up in the past year or so, the report, published today, still fingers it as the 5th dirtiest in the country when it comes to carbon emissions. And here, in order, are 1-4: “Georgia Power Co.â€™s Plant Scherer, Alabama Power Co.â€™s James H. Miller Jr. Plant, Luminantâ€™s Martin Lake in Texas, [and] Amerenâ€™s Labadie in Missouri.” [StateImpact; Environment America; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Flickr user Joe A.
SMELT ON THE BANKS OF THE HOUSTON SHIP CHANNEL Included in USA Today‘s national list of “ghost factories” — forgotten lead smelting sites that have left behind toxic particles in the nearby soil — is the Lead Products Co. site at 709 N. Velasco St., just south of the Ship Channel a mile and a half east of Downtown. The TCEQ tells the newspaper that the site was a secondary lead smelter until 1968: “Contamination at the site is being addressed under a voluntary cleanup program and has focused on the disposal of lead battery casings at the site and on the adjoining KQXT transmitter property, the state said. Cleanup actions have included construction and placement of an earthen cap. Groundwater contamination also has been investigated, the state said.” Helpfully, Lead Products Co. has a “ghost” website to go along with its “ghost” factory. [USA Today] Photo of adjacent Cary St. play area: Lead Products Co.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY HOUSTON NEEDS THAT NEW WALMART BY THE BAYOU “With all this rain, surely pollutants are leeching out from the soils of this brownfield site and flowing into White Oak Bayou. If there were a Wal-Mart here, the surface would be impermeable with only trace amounts of leaked motor oil contaminating the bayou. And as a kayaker that enjoys high water, that means less cancer for me!” [TheNiche, commenting on Only a Little Off Target: Walmart Heading Right Between Washington Ave and the Heights]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WE’RE FROM THE TEXAS MEDICAL CENTER AND WE’RE HERE TO HELP “Given all the refineries, industrial plants, chemical plants, railroads, stagnant swamps and cesspools, traffic pollution, and the like that plague this hellhole of a town, it is a freaking wonder that Houston doesnâ€™t lead the nation in cancer cases.” [Random Poster, commenting on Todayâ€™s Odor in Baytown Is Brought to You by ExxonMobil]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: AND ON ANY RAINY SUNDAY “Well, Christmas Day and New Yearâ€™s Day are coming up, an opportunity for the Annual Unscientific Anecdotal Take A Whiff Holiday Bingo. First thing in the morning on these two holidays, open your windows or step onto your porch or balcony, face the southeast, and take a big sniff of the air. 99% guarantee youâ€™ll get a strong odor of Eau de Ship Channel. After 20 or so years of this Iâ€™m convinced that the plants take advantage of the holiday (no one manning the phones at TCEQ) to flush the toilets, as it were, and let the emissions fly.” [Miz Brooke Smith, commenting on How the TCEQ Helps Houston Air Stay So Fresh and Clean]