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Community fights back against company's dirty tactics wreaking havoc on health: 'It's also mental warfare'

"We've all suffered from lack of sleep, anxiety, mental issues."

"We’ve all suffered from lack of sleep, anxiety, mental issues.”

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A Black community in Houston is fighting back against one company's new facility that stores 300,000 gallons of liquid propane right next to their homes — and calling the project out as the environmental racism that it clearly is.

What is happening?

CenterPoint Energy, the only investor-owned electric utility company in Texas, according to the outlet Grist, quietly announced its plans for the facility in 2021, gave the residents of Southwest Crossing the legal minimum of 18 days to object, and then quickly moved forward.

Now — again, quietly, and without heeding public concerns — CenterPoint is trying to build a new gas pipeline through Southwest Crossing.

"It's environmental racism, that's obvious," Southwest Crossing resident Marilyn Rayon told Capital B. "It's also mental warfare. We've all suffered from lack of sleep, anxiety, mental issues."

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) quotes Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., describing environmental racism as "the intentional siting of polluting and waste facilities in communities primarily populated by African Americans, Latines, Indigenous People, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, migrant farmworkers, and low-income workers." These communities are then disproportionately exposed to pollutants, causing adverse health effects such as cancer and respiratory issues.

CenterPoint has built five facilities total in Houston since 2019. Four are in neighborhoods that are majority people of color, per Grist.

Why is it concerning?

The residents of Southwest Crossing are worried about an explosion from the 300,000 gallons of liquid propane looming next to their community. Propane carries a high risk of ignition, fire, and explosion, and there are 300 explosions per year at similar facilities, per a 2014 that Grist cites. 

There are other health risks as well. Last year, a leak at a similar CenterPoint plant in Indiana exposed area residents to carbon monoxide, sending at least four people to the hospital in late December, per the outlet Courier & Press. According to Grist, the state fined CenterPoint just over $100,000 — barely a slap on the wrist for the $40 billion company.

The residents of Southwest Crossing are also drawing attention to the adverse mental health effects that the worry and the fight against the facility have caused.

"You work all your life and give and go through so much," Rayon said, "and at the end of your life, after you've worked to keep the community nice, they just drop something in your neighborhood that they know is dangerous."

What is being done about it?

All of the residents' attempts to fight back against the CenterPoint facility have been stymied. Per Grist, their local representative receives 15% of her corporate donations from CenterPoint and has been unwilling to help their cause. Texas is notoriously friendly to dirty energy companies, so the residents fear that there is little they can do to stop CenterPoint from continuing to threaten their community.

Currently, they are considering bringing a civil rights complaint to the Department of Justice or the Environmental Protection Agency.

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