CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — It’s normally quiet in the neighborhoods across the street from Flint Hills Resources' East refinery. Maybe an occasional car will go by, and a few birds will chirp.
But for the most part, it’s quiet.
But a carcinogen in the air is making some noise among residents: Benzene.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the colorless and highly flammable chemical can cause leukemia.
Flint Hills Resources' East refinery was found to have released more than the EPA’s limit last year, surpassing the 9-microgram-per-cubic-meter-a-year limit. The Texas Tribune reports the refinery had levels of 10.4 micrograms.
Jewel Allen has lived in the neighborhood across the street from Flint Hills Resources for more than 65 years. When she moved into the neighborhood more than half a century ago, cancer was never on her mind.
“It worries me if it’s known that it’s really causing cancer,” she said after hearing about the report.
Allen said she also fears that she or a loved one could get cancer if it ever happens again, and said refineries need to be more proactive.
“Whatever they using, they should test it more to see if it could cause cancer,” she said.
Flint Hills Resources' Public Affairs Director Andy Saenz said it was last February’s extreme winter freeze that pushed benzene levels higher than the EPA allows, pushing its quarterly average up above its yearly average.
“You can’t operate your plant the way you normally do," he said. "I mean, everything shuts down. If you remember, there was no power in the Coastal Bend area — no water. All of those things impact our operations.”
Saenz said they are using new technology to test for benzene levels and, since March of this year, has had a yearly average in compliance with EPA standards.
However, fearing that levels can go above the limit again, Environmental Justice Housing Fund Board Treasurer Jim Klein said that group's mission is to buy people’s houses in the Dona Park neighborhood to protect their health.
“We don’t want people living up here," he said. "We just think it’s too close to the refineries and these benzene emissions exceeding these reports seems to kind of underscore that."