Environmental Justice / Right-to-Know

A legacy of environmental racism

Exxon Mobil is still pumping toxins into black community in Texas 17 years after civil rights complaint

Exxon Mobil refinery in the Charlton-Pollard section of Beaumont, Texas, as seen from Van Buren Avenue, on June 6, 2017. Photo: Todd Spoth for The Intercept

BEAUMONT, TX — “People who can afford to live elsewhere tend to leave the neighborhood. A family who lived next door to Gaines recently left because they feared the pollution was the reason their 12-year-old daughter had begun losing her hair after they moved in. Theirs, too, was a reasonable fear. Physicians have documented a relationship between exposure to airborne contaminants, including many the plant emits, and hair loss. Research has also shown an increase in birth defects among people living near refineries, as well as in children’s asthma rates. But the family didn’t stick around to parse the science; they just took their daughter to a place that smelled and felt safer.

Meanwhile Thibeaux, Gaines, and the others who remain in the roughly square-mile neighborhood just west of the Exxon Mobil plant had good reason to doubt their concerns would be taken seriously: They already raised them in a formal complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency — 17 years ago.

On April 13, 2000, Charlton-Pollard residents asked the EPA to force the state of Texas to revoke a permit it had recently granted the refinery to increase operations. The law requires the EPA to acknowledge receipt of a complaint within five business days, conduct an investigation, and send the complainants preliminary findings within 200 days after that. After one response three years later — a promise to investigate — the federal agency devoted to protecting Americans from environmental threats did nothing to revoke the permit; for years the EPA didn’t respond at all.”

— Sharon Lerner, The Intercept

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