Living in a Sacrifice Zone

This is a guest post from Cherri Foytlin of the Bridge the Gulf Project. Ms. Foytlin is a journalist, mother of six and wife of an oil worker who lives in south Louisiana. She is the author of “Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Oil Rig Explosion.”

“We are part of America. We are a major city in America, but we do not need to be the sacrifice zone for the nation,” states Houston resident Juan Parras.

Parras joins a growing contingent of Houston residents concerned about the overburdening of minority and low-income communities in the area with the ill effects of energy production.

“There has been a lot of studies conducted, and one of them in particular is a study conducted on leukemia cases within a 2 mile radius of the Houston ship channel. The chances of contracting leukemia here are 56 percent, and of course, this is related to the petrochemical industry. We also have a lot of asthma, tumors – all of the things people do not want in their communities can be found here,” he explains.

As a founder of the group Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), Parras is no stranger in working to protect Houston neighborhoods from the hazards of air and water pollution. “[TEJAS] started doing environmental justice work here in Houston in the year 2004. There is a lot to be done here, because we have the highest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants in the nation,” he says.

VIDEO: Community advocate Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services describes the area of Manchester – an environmental justice community in Houston, Texas. Like so many communities across the nation, Manchester disproportionately bears the burden of health problems due to industrial pollution in the area. According to Parras, the Valero plant in Manchester will most likely be a final destination for tar sands oil traveling through the Keystone XL Pipeline. Watch more: Houston Residents Worry About Tar Sands Oil Pollution

The work is challenging, Parras explains, due to the societal acceptance of the adverse affects as a necessary risk for economic stability. “In Houston, it’s different than the rest of the country. We are considered the gas and oil capital of the world, and in my opinion we have been brainwashed to accept the risk – that this is a risk we must accept. It’s tragic. [They] talk about the jobs and the economy, and forget all the health related issues.”

According to Parras, the southern leg of the Keystone Pipeline project is no different:

We were excited when President Obama said that’s it’s not going to happen, that [they] are going to have to do more environmental impact statements, but it is my understanding that it is coming.

The Keystone people say it’s going to create a lot of jobs, but they won’t be sustainable jobs. Once you install the pipeline, that’s it, you don’t have a job anymore. It’s all temporary. And then what we end up with is an exhaust pipeline here in Houston and Port Arthur – that’s what I call it, because we are going to end up with all the nasty stuff.

Parras does not believe that the impact to the community is worth the risk, “We must remember that this is tar sands oil – it has a lot of sand, it has lead, nickel and mercury. The processes that it takes to extract the oil from these things, requires a lot more heating, a lot more water. So we are going to be using five barrels of water for every gallon of oil that we get.”

He worries for the community of Manchester, home of the Valero plant which will most likely receive the oil for refining. “We are predicting that it is coming to Valero, in the Manchester community, because it is already sort of equipped and ready to process that oil.”

Manchester, a mainly Latino community, is no stranger to pollution. According to an article published in 2005 by the Houston Chronicle, air monitoring in the area confirmed high concentrations of 1.3-butadiene, a known human carcinogen.

Parras says that the additional toxic air emissions to this already struggling community are unacceptable, “There is a study that says for the Houston ship Channel area, if the pipeline does come down, it will increase the pollution in our communities 35 percent. That’s a lot of unnecessary pollution.” He adds, “We are being asked to sacrifice our lives so that others can benefit from the products that come and leave Houston. It is just not right. Everyone has a right to clean air and water. We are entitled to that.”


Related Stories:

The Browner The Neighborhood, The Browner The Air

The Human Story Behind Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

EPA Finds Its Backbone, Blocks BP From New Oil Drilling Contracts


Photo of pollution spilling into Manchester, a mainly Latino community in Houston, courtesy of TEJAS.


Fiona T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Nobody should be sacrified

Olivia Lim
Olivia L5 years ago

The Keystone XL pipeline is evil! It will sicken and kill so many from pollution, and release so much greenhouse gases that it will be game over for the climate. NOTHING is worth poisoning the air and water. Obama isn't asking the right people about their opinions on the pipeline. He should be asking the people who suffer from diseases like cancer that are caused by all the shit we dump everywhere.

Magdika Cecilia Perez

heart breaking

Doug G.
Doug G5 years ago

Pick any state in this nation or in the world for that matter and you can find a "sacrifice zone" made that way through human greed and ignorance. Over and over, more and more, many places are becoming sacrifice zones while the majority of people chose to be blind to the damage they are causing by demanding more and more things without concern for the real costs associated with those demands.
The real question should be how can the mental illness of the human race be addressed so that this species no longer has to ruin this earth just to get by for another day?

John Ditchman
John D5 years ago

The Keystone Pipeline is NOT about oil for America. It is by-passing oil refineries in Oklahoma that could process the oil for US use. Instead, the pipeline is going to Port Arthur. That is a PORT! Meaning the oil is going somewhere else.

As for Houston being a sacrifice zone, welcome to the club. West Virginia has sacrificed it's people and mountains for coal for over 100 years. We get broken bodies, useless land, poisoned water, and the money stays outside West Virginia.

Dianne D.
Dianne D5 years ago

To add to the Keystone pipeline saga, the companies involved will not guantee that the oil will stay in the United States. They want to poison our land and kill our wildlife and humans and send the oil out of the country. Same thing happened with the Alaska pipeline. My uncle worked for the refinery's for many years in the beginning of the Alaska pipeline and did you know that most of the oil was sent to Japan? The USA refineries thought the oil was too dirty for them to clean up, so it was sent to Japan for them to clean, then Japan shipped it back for about 10 times as much as they bought it for and the cost was passed on to the consumer. Don't be fooled that the Keystone pipeline is a good investment.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra R5 years ago

I remember reading about a Republican politician opining that one should not feed the poor, as it only causes them to breed. This takes it a step further - just poison them off, then they are even less likely to breed.

John B.
John B5 years ago

Thank you for sharing Ms. Foytlin's article and the video. Kudos to Mr. Parras and the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services for the efforts.

Carol D.
Past Member 5 years ago

politicians at the end of the day are there to feather their own nests and get the glory They really do not care what happens to ordinary people They dont live like ordinary people If you asked them to live in one of these communities they would not do it knowing what diseases and pollution are caused by all this mining etc Seems to me most of them dont care about whats happening to the planet otherwise they would do more to stop whats happening and stop the greed