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Texas agency blames Imelda in mass release of air pollutants

HOUSTON (AP) — Flooding caused by Tropical Storm Imelda triggered the release of about 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms) of toxic air pollutants from chemical plants and refineries in Southeast Texas, state environmental records show.

Industrial facilities are vulnerable when struck by storms like Imelda, which dumped about 43 inches (109 centimeters) of rain last week, the Houston Chronicle reported. The unauthorized release of toxins happened due to electrical outages, floating roof tank failures and equipment malfunctions.

About a dozen companies reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that the flooding had forced unauthorized emissions of pollutants, including cancer-causing 1,3 butadiene, benzene and ethylene oxide. The emissions are not yet a cause for concern, the agency said.

The largest polluter was Exxon Mobil in Beaumont, which released about 36,000 pounds (16,000 kilograms) of pollutants, the agency said.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday suspended dozens of environmental rules, as he did after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The agency requested the suspensions for the counties that declared a state of disaster.

Adrian Shelley, director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen's Texas office, asked Abbott in a letter to lift the suspension.

"When people live near industrial activity, as they do in Texas, great care must be taken to protect their health and well-being," she said.

During Harvey, companies in affected counties emitted about 8.3 million pounds (3.8 million kilograms) of unauthorized air pollution.

John Beard, who chairs the Port Arthur Community Action Network and is a retired employee from Exxon Mobil, said there are too many sources of air pollutants in the region.

"The community understands the importance of jobs and to have gasoline and fuels to live in this modern day," he said, "but what is the human cost of doing that?"

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com