We continue our series “ Plastic Free July – Through A Different Lens” with t.e.j.a.s. fighting for environmental justice in Texas. They believe that everyone, regardless of race or income, is entitled to live in a clean environment. Important work we should all support.
t.e.j.a.s (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services) is dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation.
Looking closer at the need for environmental justice in the United States, we clearly see how communities of color are harmed by their proximity to some of our nation’s most toxic oil-refining and chemical-processing facilities. t.e.j.a.s is committed to improving air quality and reducing chemical exposure for the communities of Houston’s east end and the neighborhoods that surround the Houston Ship Channel. The Houston Ship Channel is the busiest international port in the country, and home to the largest petrochemical refinery complex in the western hemisphere. The neighborhoods where t.e.j.a.s works sit right next to these oil refineries as well as industrial waste sites where the health of the residents is constantly at risk from the pollution spewing from the refineries.
Intersection of COVID -19 and Environmental Justice
The petrochemical refineries in the area of the Houston Ship Channel are currently producing the raw materials needed to make masks, plastic gowns and other medical equipment, much needed during the global pandemic. And yet, it is the communities where these PPE are being produced that may need them the most. The American Lung Association ranks Houston among the nation’s most polluted cities. The four schools within sight of polluting refineries, Chavez HS, Sheldon INT, and JR Harris Elementary, are in the top 1% of most polluted schools in the US. Other nearby schools place in the top 10% due to the polluting industrial facilities.
Pollution is not equally distributed across the United States and the US has a well-documented history of placing pollution sources like incinerators, landfills and oil refineries in low-income areas and communities of color. Studies have found increased rates of COVID-19 in areas of elevated air pollution and individuals living in areas of high particulate pollution are 15% more likely to die from COVID-19. Air quality is a risk factor for respiratory health and COVID-19.
Not only that, but this area of Texas is also home to five medical waste facilities. Medical waste facilities that will in all likelihood be incinerating much of the COVID-19 medical waste and contributing even further to the air pollution.
What Can You Do
Take a Tour
t.e.j.a.s. organizes toxic tours in Houston as an educational tool for individuals within and outside of the community to gain a further understanding of environmental justice issues.
Listen and Learn More
For more information, here is a YouTube video from a recent congressional hearing. The panelists include Judith Enck of Beyond Plastics (starts at 14:00 minutes); Monique Harden, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (at 19:30 minutes); Yvette Arellano, t.e.j.a.s (at 26:27 minutes); and Kimberly Terrell, PhD, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic ( 32:35 minutes)
And a number of articles to read (and many more can be found on the t.e.j.a.s. website):
- Coronavirus: Why some racial groups are more vulnerable
- In the Shadows of America’s Smokestacks, Virus is One More Deadly Risk
- Yvette Arellano, policy research and grassroots advocate with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services also contributed to the CIEL paper, “Plastic and Health: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet” which we featured in this blog post: How Our Plastic and Carbon Footprints Are Intertwined.
This is the second of our “Plastic Free July 2020 – Thru a Different Lens” series. You can read the first here. Check back each week to help take a stand for environmental justice.