Residents of Houston’s Toxic East End Speak Out

The Valero refinery overlooks Manchester's only park. Photo credit: Laura Borealis

The Valero refinery overlooks Manchester’s only park. Photo credit: Laura Borealis

Cross-posted from the Earth First! Newswire

Residents of Houston’s toxic East End have been organizing their communities to resist further industrial development, specifically the Keystone XL pipeline and the tar sands it will carry to be processed in refineries there. For the record, tar sands are NOT oil! Tar sands are a thick mixture of sand, water, clay, bitumen and crude oil which must be mixed with volatile dilutents to get them to move through pipelines. Yudith Nieto was born in Mexico and raised in Manchester, one of the most polluted neighborhoods on Turtle Island. Yudith has been speaking out and standing up for her community who are saying “NO!” to toxic tar sands.

yudith-ef“I am committed to amplifying the voices of communities of color that are systematically silenced, like mine, that are being disproportionately affected by environmentally destructive industries, and experiencing racism and classism. I am speaking out because I believe it will help me to advocate for my community and further my ability to help make their voices a part of this movement as well as empower people to build a community of resistance to confront these injustices.”  -Yudith Nieto

Manchester is surrounded on all sides by industry. A massive Valero refinery looms over Manchester’s only park and its smokestacks poison the people who live there 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Also a LyondellBasell refinery sits just a few miles from the community. It’s the largest refinery in Houston and is currently being sued by Harris County for a number of incidents that resulted in the release of 5 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere. In March, LyondellBasell’s CEO announced that the Houston refinery was nearly finished with a $50 million project that would allow them to increase their tar sands refining capacity to 175,000 barrels a day. This is admittedly in preparation for the Keystone XL, and would allow them to refine approximately a quarter of the pipeline’s capacity. Valero has contract rights with TransCanada that allow them to purchase up to three-quarters of the capacity of Keystone XL, meaning Manchester is a primary target for tar sands refining on the Gulf Coast.

Manchester’s primarily [email protected] community is already plagued by a long list of diseases and ailments including asthma, respiratory disease and inflammation, infertility, birth defects, and a myriad of deadly cancers.  The National Disease Clusters Alliance reports (pg. 2) that children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56% higher likelihood of developing leukemia than those who live more than ten miles away. Forcing this community to bear the brunt of tar sands refining will only make these problems worse.

Not only are EPA and TCEQ (Texas Commission for Environmental Quality) regulations not good enough to protect the health of the community, but for the most part, petrochemical industries in Houston go almost completely unchecked. In the case of LyondellBasell, the TCEQ refused to review the refinery’s emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, despite an official request by the city of Houston. Regulatory governmental agencies are leaving people without protection, and thus, vulnerable to corporate interests. By law, these corporations only concern themselves with the growth of capital, primarily by means of the exploitation of those most traditionally marginalized and at risk in capitalist society. Manchester is a textbook case of environmental racism – the intentional targeting of minority communities by industries who seek to benefit from their suffering and lack of political voice. Many people living in Manchester are also undocumented, making it dangerous for them to speak out against human rights abuses.

Blas Espinosa also lives in Houston’s toxic East End, and like Yudith, he has been involved in community organizing efforts there with Tar Sands Blockade and other groups like the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service.

blas-ef“All people, suppliers and consumers, who endorse or feed the genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide perpetuated by the petrochemical industry must be held accountable. We must come together like what is happening here in Manchester, and in many other communities, and continue to organize for the security of our most essential, vital and finite natural resources: air, water, and land, for the sake of present and future generations. Promoting mutual aid as a way of life gives us an alternative to a flawed, destructive system, pushing us forward to social, economic, and environmental harmony, security, justice, and peace.”        -Blas Espinosa

Both Yudith and Blas were interviewed last week by the Huffington Post in an article entitled Keystone XL Risks Harm To Houston Community: ‘This Is Obviously Environmental Racism’. To learn more about the community of resistance being cultivated in Manchester, download this info packet created by anarchist community organizers and Tar Sands Blockaders: Something Is Brewing In Manchester.


The LyondellBasell refinery just outside of Manchester.


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