Pleasantville advocates for hazardous materials reform


In the aftermath of the chemical warehouse fires in the summer of 1995, Pleasantville residents rallied to advocate for safety reform and exposed the extent of environmental injustice they faced every day.

Hundreds of Pleasantville Residents organized and urged the mayor and City Council to ensure that neither they, nor other Houstonians, would continue to be exposed to the chemical hazards they faced everyday. Two groups of residents also hired lawyers to settle claims for damages to their homes and surroundings. Their advocacy brought about significant action. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston, 18th Congressional District) asked the Environmental Protection Agency to formally investigate the fire. A report to City Council indicated that there were 45 industrial sites within 1000 feet of Pleasantville residents. A moratorium was placed on new permits for chemical warehouses. Mayor Bob Lanier created a Committee on Environmental Standards, and enacted a variety of restrictive safety measures.

A Houston Chronicle story noted, “Pleasantville residents demanded follow-up in a manner often uncharacteristic of many inner-city neighborhoods […]. But, then again, residents say, this never has been just an ordinary development […]. Activism has remained a constant in this predominantly black enclave that once was seen as the countryside before being swallowed up by massive city expansion.”

The Committee on Environmental Standards was headed by Michael Yarbrough, who was originally from Pleasantville and represented the neighborhood in the City Council. At the recommendation of the committee, Mayor Lanier ordered that warehouses publicly disclose contents and post chemical warning signs. The new law, the Hazardous Materials Ordinance, restricted construction of new HazMat facilities within 1000 feet of homes and schools, but did nothing to address many Pleasantville residents’ concerns of existing industrial sites being “grandfathered” in.

Listen to Cleophus Sharp describe community protests at City Hall in the aftermath of the chemical warehouse fires.

To watch this video with transcript, click here.