• Worse Than Everyone Thought: The Problem With Toxic Benzene
  • January 3, 2017
  • Law Firm: Waters Kraus LLP - Dallas Office
  • When it comes to dangerous industrial chemicals, benzene is one of the really bad ones. Take a quick whiff and you’re likely to feel dizzy and confused. Over time, exposure causes red blood cells to malfunction and weaken the immune system. Linked to birth defects and cancer, just about everyone-from the EPA to much of corporate America-agrees that benzene is something we should all stay away from.

    But here’s the problem with benzene: it’s popping up in high amounts in surprising places. Benzene is a byproduct of petroleum and industrial solvents, so you’d expect to find it in and around oil refineries, industrial operations, oil & gas wells and fracking operations. But residents in two Houston neighborhoods got a big surprise earlier this year, and their experience raises very serious questions about toxic benzene exposure across the country.

    Watchdogs with the Houston Advanced Research Center found dangerously high amounts of benzene in the neighborhoods of Galena Park and Manchester, miles and miles from the nearest refinery, oil well or industrial operation. The source of these toxic vapors was a real mystery until investigators took a look at oil and gas pipeline routes that quietly pass through these neighborhoods. Surprise! The toxic contamination precisely matched up with the locations of these pipelines. Eduardo Olaguer, who led the research team, called the findings a real wake-up call.

    What does this mean for those who live near pipelines? Pipeline operators have gotten a free pass until now because pipelines are considered safer than tanker trucks and rail cars. But what if pipelines are quietly belching deadly benzene in unsuspecting neighborhoods? That’s what appears to be happening in this case. There’s more investigating to be done, but that’s little peace of mind for the countless people who are living nearby.

    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will reportedly review the findings, but the political appointees on the commission have a long history of siding with corporate interests and failing to protect Texans. It’s time to hold these companies accountable for the deadly contamination that they’re causing.