Publication: THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS PubDate: 10/3/2000 Head: RACIAL PATTERNS Economics and segregation left minorities

closer to toxic sites Byline: Ed Timms Section: NEWS Edition: THIRD Column Name: Series: TOXIC TRAPS: THE TEXAS PROBLEM Page Number: 1A Word Count: 1996 Dateline: TEXAS CITY, Texas TEXAS CITY, Texas - Minority children who live in the Grand Camp Apartments, a Texas City housing project, play in a park across the street from several storage tanks. Behind the tanks, refineries rumble and spew. The mostly black residents of Port Arthur’s Carver Terrace project live in the shadow of a petrochemical complex. In the 1950s, when Carver Terrace was built, a housing project for whites was built on the opposite side of town. Black and Hispanic tenants of the D.N. Leathers project in Corpus Christi share their neighborhood with an area known as “Refinery Row” and a wastewater treatment plant. They complain of pervasive and acrid odors. Clothes hung out to dry sometimes are speckled with a brown or black soot that irritates the skin. In many Texas communities, poor residents - in public and private housing - share their neighborhoods with refineries, chemical plants and wastewater treatment facilities. They’re across the railroad tracks, beyond the highway, far away from the prosperous and the politically empowered. In some cases, racial segregation set the pattern decades ago. Minorities were forced to live in undesirable neighborhoods, and public housing was put there. Economics also played a role in many communities. At one time, whites who worked in the plants lived nearby. But as they climbed the financial ladder, they moved to more affluent neighborhoods. The property that they left behind was inexpensive. Minorities moved in. The price also was right for officials looking for places to build public housing.

Whether race or economics is to blame, thousands of minorities in Texas still live in public housing projects near facilities that process tons of potentially explosive and deadly substances. Toxic chemicals percolate out of smokestacks daily. Poor white families are more likely to live in federally subsidized low-income housing that is farther away from such facilities. From time to time, accidental releases from the plants exceed federal smokestack emissions standards. Residents are forced to evacuate or to “shelter in place” - shut the doors, close the windows and hope for the best. “There’s no question about it. The air quality and the quality of life in those neighborhoods has been totally compromised,” said Grover G. Hankins, director of the Environmental Justice Clinic and a law professor at Texas Southern University. “It’s environmental genocide.” Some government officials offer a different explanation. George Fuller, who heads Texas City’s housing authority, said he has inherited a situation that was created decades ago. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” he said. Mr. Fuller and other officials acknowledge that a lot of Texas’ public housing was built during the days of segregation and today remains in predominantly minority neighborhoods near industrial plants. Funding to relocate public housing residents is hard to come by, they note. And some officials are not convinced that lives are at risk. They cite the relatively sparse research on the health effects of sharing a neighborhood with a petrochemical facility. “We definitely do not want to put people in health’s risk,” said George Rodriguez, a senior official in the Houston office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We certainly want to do what we can to move people or put them in places where they are not going to be suffering. But when there’s no empirical evidence, it makes it very difficult for us to say yes or no.” Doing such research isn’t HUD’s responsibility, Mr. Rodriguez added. “We would hope that would by the city or the local community

or somebody else doing that,” he said. And why hasn’t more research been done? “In some cases, it may be that they don’t want to address it or in some cases they’re afraid to address it,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “Because if you do, where do they go?” Measuring the public’s actual exposure to toxic air pollution is still an unrealized goal. “What they want is: ‘Tell me, is the air I’m breathing clean? Is the water I’m drinking clean? Is the land my children are playing on safe?’ ” said Jeff Saitas, executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Comission, Texas’ state environmental agency. “And we have not, as a country, built a system to answer that question.” Daily risks Texas City’s most recent five-year plan recommends closing the Grand Camp Apartments, which bears the same name as the French ship loaded with a cargo of ammonium nitrate that exploded in Texas City’s harbor in 1947, killing more than 500 people. Mr. Fuller said that the residents would be moved to scattered sites elsewhere in Texas City - but he has to find a way to pay for that. His office is seeking HUD funding. “We have no evidence that there’s anything that’s adversely affecting their health, but ... we live in an area where there’s a potential for problems.” Texas City plants have accidentally released large clouds of chemicals on April 1, 1998, Mother’s Day in 1994 and in 1987. Local residents were forced to evacuate or “shelter in place.” In all, hundreds sought medical treatment for respiratory problems. Some who live in public housing say they are just as worried that the day-to-day - and legal - emissions from the facilities pose health risks. Sally Dickens’ 9-year-old son, Arthur, developed asthma and other respiratory problems after they moved into Texas City’s Grand Camp project about five years ago. Arthur periodically breaks out in a “massive rash” when he plays outside. Her daughter Kiara, 8, also

has respiratory problems. Ms. Dickens suffers frequently from headaches, which she says are often triggered by a smell from the refineries that she describes as “so devastating - it just makes you sick.” “I pray that I can give this up,” Ms. Dickens said. “I want to move out of Texas City.” Up the coast, there are no plans to close down Port Arthur’s Carver Terrace project. In fact, about $1 million is being spent to install central air-conditioning and heating units. The improvements were ordered by a federal judge overseeing a desegregation case involving public housing in East Texas. Bobby Feemster, who heads Port Arthur’s housing authority, said Carver Terrace units are in high demand and there is a long waiting list. Over time, he said, Carver Terrace and Gulf Breeze, the project originally built for white tenants, have become integrated. He estimates that 98 percent of Carver Terrace residents are black and at Gulf Breeze 60 percent of the residents are black, 30 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are other races. “It’s certainly more integrated than the Carver site,” Mr. Feemster said of Gulf Breeze. When the two complexes were built, the sites were selected so that residents would be close to their churches and families and in neighborhoods where they would feel comfortable, he said. “And even today, we still have that kind of a situation, as far as the residents wanting these very same things.” Refineries already were in the area when Carver Terrace was built in the mid-1950s. “So we actually moved into their neighborhood as opposed to them moving into ours,” Mr. Feemster said. He asserted that the refinery managers have “always tried to be good neighbors.” As for the health of the tenants: “We really have not had any problems as far as individuals becoming ill from any emissions,” Mr. Feemster said.

Earnestine McCallum sees it differently. She said she developed respiratory problems after she moved into Carver Terrace. She uses a nebulizer machine four times a day and always has an inhaler close by. She blames the refineries. “Sometimes you put the windows down and it doesn’t help,” said Ms. McCallum, 59. “You put your head under the pillow. There’s no fresh air nowhere.” Another Carver Terrace resident, Edward Kinard, 44, is planning to move, in part because of the pollution. Some nights, he said, the odors from the plants are so strong that he wakes up gagging and coughing. Earlier this year, residents and staff at Carver Terrace learned that a firm had sought a state permit to store 150,000 tons of coke, a sooty coal-like substance used as a fuel, near the project. Pat Reed, Carver Terrace’s site manager, said she was surprised to learn of the plan. But, she added, it fits a pattern of placing public housing in traditionally black neighborhoods “by the refineries, by everything that’s toxic, and nobody does anything about it.” “Locked in” Many public housing residents, civil-rights advocates and environmentalists in Texas contend that the vestiges of segregation continue to haunt public housing projects and that the government agencies responsible for safeguarding their residents have failed. “The poor and uneducated, the elderly and the children ... cannot afford to move,” said the Rev. Roy Malveaux, a Baptist minister in Beaumont and state director of People Against Contaminated Environments. “They’re locked in those areas. Even when it’s made known that the people want out, somehow or another these cities take the money that they’re supposed to be using for environmental justice and lock these folks in.” Mr. Malveaux fled what he views as a toxic neighborhood - but at a heavy cost. He moved from his home near Corpus Christi’s Refinery Row in late 1994 because he believed the pollution was causing his children’s health problems.

“I just took what I could and got out with my family,” he said. “I lost my house. I ended up starting over. But my kids were sick. My wife was sick.” Mr. Malveaux said his family’s health “improved tremendously” after they moved away. In 1994, civil-rights, community and environmental groups in Corpus Christi filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency. It alleged that Corpus Christi and the state conservation commission had discriminated against minorities in Corpus Christi “by ignoring their environmental protection and health needs.” The complaint, which is pending, accused city officials of helping polluting industries develop next to a densely populated minority neighborhood. It cited a study that concluded there was a higher risk of death from cancer in the industrial areas of Nueces County and that a disproportionately high percentage of victims were black. The state agency was accused of operating in a fashion “that encourages siting, permitting and polluting activities by large industrial plants in areas that are largely people of color and low-income.” The complaint claimed that in some cases, industrial accidents and explosions forced residents to evacuate from neighborhoods at all hours of the night. Attorneys for the agency denied the accusations and argued that it had devoted special attention to environmental issues in the area. After they also challenged the study cited in the complaint, the state health department surveyed the residents and reported numerous health problems. Commission lawyers then questioned those findings, suggesting that factors such as smoking, diet or occupational exposures might be to blame. Neil Carman, a former state environmental inspector who is now clean-air program director for the Sierra Club in Texas, called the argument that there’s no link between pollution and health problems “absolute baloney.” “It’s just a nightmare waiting to happen,” said Dr. Carman, a chemical biologist. “You’re exposing children, pregnant women, people with respiratory problems, the elderly, to toxins during the

normal operations of many of these plants.” Today, public housing residents in Corpus Christi who live near the refineries continue to complain of mysterious ailments. Tandalarr Cromwell moved to the D.N. Leathers housing project in Corpus Christi about 12 years ago. She’d always been healthy but soon developed asthma and a skin problem that has left heavy scars on her legs and back. Her 9-year-old son, Robin Roundtree, was found to be with asthma when he was a toddler. So why doesn’t she move? “It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to go somewhere when you don’t have any money and a way to get there,” said Ms. Cromwell, 43. “For the time being, we’re stuck where we are. We don’t want to be here, but we don’t have a choice.”

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