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High levels of cancer-causing chemical found in parts of Houston: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Houston Ship Channel and adjacent refineries, part of the Port of Houston, are seen in Houston, Texas, US, May 5, 2019. (Reuters photo)

High levels of a cancer-causing chemical have been detected in air monitors in Houston neighborhoods near the busiest US petrochemical port, according to a report issued on Thursday by Houston health officials and environmental groups.

The report by the Houston Health Department and One Breath Partnership said concentrations of formaldehyde were found at levels 13 times the US Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum level for health threats.

It recommended regulations for plants and control of chemicals contributing to formaldehyde formation be tightened. Formaldehyde levels appear to be increasing in Houston as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's air monitoring sampling frequency is decreasing, the report said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the report is further proof of the impact of pollution on "high-poverty communities of color." 

"The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has the responsibility to take immediate action to strengthen existing rules to address the formaldehyde problem plaguing families near the Houston Ship Channel," Turner said.

Formaldehyde or chemicals that combine to form it are released by refineries, chemical plants and automobiles.

The Houston Health Department between September 2019 and September 2020 tested an area along the Houston Ship Channel that is home to several petrochemical plants and five crude oil refineries.

The highest concentrations of formaldehyde found “would translate to about one additional cancer case per 77,000 people, according to the Houston Health Department’s assessment of EPA’s cancer risk formulas,” the report said.

The report identified plants operated by Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), Chevron (CVX.N), Koch Industries' Flint Hills Resources and NRG Energy (NRG.N) as sources for formaldehyde or the chemicals that combine to form it.

"We are committed to operate in a manner that safeguards our environment and protects our people and community," said Exxon spokeswoman Julie King. "Exxon Mobil has invested billions on environmental performance measures at our US manufacturing sites over the past 20 years."

(Source: Reuters)

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