HOUSTON—High levels of a cancer-causing chemical have been detected in air monitors in Houston neighborhoods near the busiest U.S. petrochemical port, according to a report issued on Thursday by city of Houston health officials and environmental groups.
The report by the Houston Health Department and One Breath Partnership said they found concentrations of formaldehyde up to 13 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum level for health threats.
It recommended that permitting of plants and control of chemicals that contribute to formaldehyde formation be more tightly regulated. Formaldehyde levels appear to be increasing in Houston as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s air monitoring sampling frequency is decreasing, the report said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the report is further proof of the impact of pollution on “high-poverty communities of color.”
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has the responsibility to take immediate action to strengthen existing rules to address the formaldehyde problem plaguing families near the Houston Ship Channel,” Turner said.
Formaldehyde is released by refineries, chemical plants, and automobiles, and can arise from emissions of the hydrocarbons ethylene, propylene, and isoprene along with other volatile organic compounds.
The Houston Health Department between September 2019 and September 2020 tested an area along the Houston Ship Channel that is home to several petrochemical plants and five crude oil refineries that account for 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity.
The report identified plants operated by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Koch Industries’ refining and petrochemical unit Flint Hills Resources, and NRG as sources for formaldehyde or the chemicals that combine to form it in the atmosphere.
The highest concentrations of formaldehyde found “would translate to about one additional cancer case per 77,000 people, according to the Houston Health Department’s assessment of EPA’s cancer risk formulas,” the report said.
By Erwin Seba