in Houston, Texas
For Earth Day: Researching environmental problems with Texas Watchdog
Friday, Apr 22, 2011, 09:24AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
earth

It's that time again: The one day a year when many Americans will put aside their bottled water, dust the cobwebs off their reusable shopping bag, and maybe even turn off the light when they leave the office.

It's Earth Day.


View Superfund sites in Texas in a larger map


And just like how New Year's Day is the day so many of us resolve to be better people and live more healthy, considerate and active lives -- and Jan. 2 is the day we go back to being rude, self-interested, cholesterol-chugging slobs -- by tomorrow, many Americans will likely be swigging from a Deer Park while pouring used motor oil right down the storm drain. (“Take that, you frickin’ fish in Galveston Bay!”)

But for 24 brief hours, some of us will stop and think about the world around us and how the things we do affect it.

We talk a great deal here at Texas Watchdog about open government. Since it's Earth Day, our featured video on the site today is one from us about how to use public records and the Internet to find out environmental problems in your community. (It's an episode we did a few months back of our free monthly Webinar on open government called TrentTV -- tune in for the next episode next week on probing quasi-governmental agencies.)

The video is up on YouTube in four snippets. The link above will get you to snippet 1, and the other snippets are here: 2, 3 and 4.

And we've got another original interactive Google Map for you. It's a map of Superfund sites throughout Texas -- those are places that have been designated by the federal government as seriously polluted and expensive to clean up.

The red dots are "active" sites on the list, such as the Highlands Acid Pits northeast of Houston, where sulfuric acid sludge was dumped in the 1950s, the EPA says. Aside from the fact that anything known as an “acid pit” is probably hazardous to human health, the site was contaminated with benzene, which can cause cancer, and the heavy metal cadmium, which can cause fatal kidney damage, along with many other toxic materials.  All physical cleanup work on the site has been finished for several years now, the EPA says, but the site is still under maintenance before it can be taken off the Superfund list.

The yellow dots on the map are sites that have been removed from the list post clean-up, such as the Houston Lead facility (as in lead from old car batteries) southwest of the 610 Loop.

The aqua blue dot, for the City View Road groundwater plume outside Midland, has been proposed for the state Superfund list. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the site is contaminated with the chemical most of us know as dry cleaning fluid but which often goes by the name “Perc.” (Aside from cleaning clothes, it’s often used in industrial settings to remove grease from metal.) Exposure to Perc may cause cancer and has been linked to nervous system damage, among a laundry list of other health issues.

One word of note, though -- the info on our map came from the TCEQ, but the federal EPA has its own map online that looks a little bit different. The EPA lists both the Falcon oil refinery on the Gulf Coast outside Corpus Christi and the R&H oil refinery in San Antonio as merely proposed sites for the federal Superfund list. You can also use the EPA site to look up more details on each Superfund site, such as an explainer of how it got so polluted and a description of what kind of contaminants are there.

And here's some recent news of note about the environment and politics:

+ In the Texas legislature, there's a move afoot to sharply limit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's ability to prevent pollution by requiring TCEQ to report on how its every decision would harm businesses.
+ The one-year anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 people and sparked biggest offshore oil spill in American history, passed just the other day. BP has started giving money to federal candidates again, the folks at OpenSecrets.org reported.
+ Speaking of the folks at OpenSecrets.org -- we mention them often because they do awesome work -- if you didn’t get to see it when it came out last year, they did a 15-part project called “Fueling Washington,” subtitled "How Oil Money Drives Politics."

***

Jennifer Peebles is a deputy editor at Texas Watchdog. Contact her at 281-656-1681 or jennifer@texaswatchdog.org. Follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.org.

Photo at top: The Earth appears to rise above the lunar landscape as Apollo 8 comes around the “dark side” of the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. Photo taken by Apollo 8 crewmember William Anders, though a nearly identical (but black-and-white) image was taken at the same time by commander Frank Borman. This is actually sideways to how the astronauts saw it out the window of their spacecraft. Photo made available by NASA. LOLpenguin photo not by NASA, by the way.

 

LOLpenguins
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