On August 27th, Hurricane Harvey arrived in notoriously flood-prone Houston. In the coming days, Harvey inundated the city with nearly five feet of rain, flooding hundreds of thousands of buildings, displacing one million people, and killing 88. Pleasantville was hit hard, with chemicals from surrounding industrial sites flooding in with the rising waters.
Harvey was not only a flooding event, it also was one of the nation’s worst toxic exposure events, a chemical storm facilitated by FDA exceptions that allowed for quick and dirty burning of chemicals in preparation for the storm, massive chemical spills and explosions that resulted from the storm, sewage backups from overwhelmed and underdeveloped drainage systems and floodwaters contaminated with toxicants from the heavy industry that butts up against fenceline communities throughout Houston, a city with no zoning laws.
Both the flooding and toxicity were unevenly distributed in the city, disproportionately impacting Black neighborhoods and low income areas. Because Pleasantville is located along the shipping channel–the single largest concentration of petrochemicals in the US–and had become hemmed in on all sides by industrial use areas, residents there and in neighboring communities faced exceptionally high hazardous exposures. Dr. Elena Craft, Senior Director of Climate and Health for the Environmental Defence Fund writes that, “in the first, and worst days of the storm, 93 percent of all known toxic emissions in all of Harris County were released within a four-mile radius of the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood Manchester — an area that includes Pleasantville — even though it makes up less than 5 percent of the county geographically.”
Watch a clip from on Democracy Now featuring Dr. Robert Bullard, father of Environmental Justice, and Brian Parras, co-founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), discussing environmental justice and Houston’s east side in the aftermath of Harvey.