Two overlooked communities with severe ongoing environmental pollution

Cancer rates 190x the EPA’s acceptable level and an area referred to as the ‘toxic donut’ – two overlooked communities with severe ongoing environmental pollution

Major environmental disasters such as the water quality of Flint, Michigan or the wildfires in California have stood out given their media coverage in the last decade but many more are overlooked. This blog we will discuss two communities that face severe environmental issues – Port Arthur, Texas and the Altgeld Gardens community in Chicago, IL.

Port Arthur, TX

Port Arthur, located approximately 80 miles east of Houston, is the home for many oil refineries and petroleum processing plants. In fact it is the home of the Motiva refinery, one of the largest oil refineries in North America. There have been several environmental concerns in the community about air quality. According to a ProPublica article, there are areas in Port Arthur where the cancer rate is 1 in 53. The acceptable rate given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 1 in 10,000 people. This translates to 190 times the acceptable rate. According to a Houston Public Media post, a plant that creates petroleum coke, used to create aluminum, has been linked to emitting over 22 pounds of sulfur dioxide per year (SO2). This accounts for over 80% SO2 released in the county and has remained operational due to loopholes in local regulations. Another refinery in the area has been cited for releasing benzene at twice the EPA’s action level. Benzene is an EPA regulated carcinogen related to multiple health effects. This refinery is rated as the second highest emitter of benzene in the state of Texas the third largest nationwide.

Altgeld Gardens, Chicago, IL

Altgeld Gardens is a neighborhood located on the far southeastern side of Chicago. This area is surrounded by various industrial sites and landfills. Connected to these sites are underground storage tanks and it is the area adjacent to three former EPA hazardous waste sites. This area is often referred to by locals as the ‘toxic donut’ due to its contaminated nature. According to an EPA survey document on the site, the area was built on an agricultural site with sewage lines underneath. The soil samples collected by the EPA showed elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, and heavy metals. However, the EPA’s assessment did not recommend removal of the soil. The EPA stated that while the area exceeded the action level, soil contamination did not exceed the amount required for removal. According to a Sun Times article, residents often complain of a foul odor while walking the streets of the community.  A study conducted by the National Institute of Medicine (NIH) lists this community as one of the highest mortality rates for lung cancer and stroke in the city of Chicago.

Altgeld Gardens, Chicago, IL

Conclusions These two communities tell a story that more needs to be done to protect environmental quality around the nation. There are many other communities around the US in close proximity to sources of contamination (past or present) that pose a severe threat to society, especially children and the elderly. If you have concerns with the environmental quality in your home or business, reach out to an environmental consultant such as Indoor Science to discuss options for testing.