Toxic Air Pollution is One of Harvey’s “Unseen Dangers”

Statement from EDF's Elena Craft and Environment Texas' Luke Metzger

August 28, 2017
Matthew Tresaugue, (713) 392-7888,

(HOUSTON, August 28, 2017) As Houston’s sweeping petrochemical industry shuts down because of tropical storm Harvey, it is releasing more than 1 million pounds of harmful pollution into the air, according to its initial reports to Texas regulators.

The shutdowns include the Houston-area refineries of Exxon Mobil, Petrobras and Shell, as well as Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou petrochemical complex.

While these shutdowns may be necessary, they can produce significant amounts of air pollution. Chevron Phillips, for example, told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that it expects to exceed permitted limits for several hazardous pollutants, such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures.

At the same time, TCEQ has shut down all of its air quality monitors in the Houston area to avoid water and wind damage related to the storm.

“Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm,” said Dr. Elena Craft, senior health scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. “Poor air quality puts the most vulnerable among us, like children and seniors, at risk for asthma, heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.”  

The amount of projected Harvey-related air pollution is roughly one-fifth of the unauthorized emissions in the Houston area during industrial malfunctions or maintenance for all of 2016, according to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas.

When a refinery or chemical plant stops in preparation for a storm, there can be an increase in emissions because pollution-control devices require stable, higher temperatures to operate properly. These emissions, often illegal, can be exacerbated by poor design and training, old equipment and waiting until the last minute to begin the shutdown.  

“Refineries and chemical plants need to be shut down during natural disasters, but they don’t have to pollute and break the law when doing so,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “Industry needs to modernize their facilities and take better care to not make a bad situation worse with their health threatening pollution.”

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