Air quality in the Houston Ship Channel region : an environmental and land use analysis



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Despite federal, state, and local efforts to combat environmental injustices resulting from heavy industrial activity and high air pollution levels, there is a widespread tendency for hazardous industrial activities to locate near low-income, underrepresented ethnic populations in the United States. The Houston Ship Channel, a port containing the largest concentration of Petrochemical Facilities in the United States, evidences this tendency and provides a stellar example of the nexus between poverty, race, industrial location, and air pollution levels. As a result of the heavy industrial activities in the East Houston area adjacent to the Houston Ship Channel, the surrounding residential area’s air quality levels are significantly poor in relation to federal, state, and local standards. Not coincidentally, these neighborhoods are predominantly low-income and Hispanic in makeup. Unfortunately, there exist few or no federal or state accountability and enforcement mechanisms to resolve this serious problem. In addition, Houston’s lack of zoning and weak land use regulations provides little opportunity for the situation to improve. Although community organization efforts have succeeded in terms of mobilization, education, and consensus building, more effective local planning tools, supported by federal regulations and applied research, would serve to remove the roadblocks that have hindered the advancement of policies promoting enhanced air quality controls, and thus improve the quality of life of the residents of East Houston.