Petrochemical releases disproportionately affected socially vulnerable populations along the Texas Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey

Abstract

Hurricane Harvey resulted in a natural-technological disaster in which flooding caused petrochemical facilities to release hazardous chemicals. Natural-technological disasters are rarely analyzed from an environmental justice (EJ) perspective. We calculated a Hurricane Harvey petrochemical hazard density index (PHDI) based on the locations of 42 facilities with reported releases along the Texas Gulf Coast. We used sociodemographic data from the American Community Survey to examine census tract-level social inequalities in PHDI (n = 1099 tracts). Results from generalized estimating equations indicate that tracts with higher proportions of Hispanic, disabled, or young residents had greater PHDI. PHDI was positively associated with tract poverty, with a slight downward curve at high poverty. Under conditions of higher Hispanic composition, the positive effect of poverty on PHDI was amplified. With more frequent storms predicted, regulatory agencies need to ensure that the petrochemical industry prepares for rapid shutdowns in order to protect residents from natural-technological disasters.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We attempted to conduct an initial baseline analysis that included all petrochemical facilities (vs. only facilities with Harvey-related releases) in the study area. However, information in the TCEQ Air Emission Report Database does not correspond well with petroleum point locations available from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), nor do the TCEQ data correspond well with petroleum refinery/terminal point data available from the Energy Information Administration or the Department of Homeland Security.

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Funding

This research was funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF; grant CMMI-1841654 and a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplement to the award). Any opinions, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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Flores, A.B., Castor, A., Grineski, S.E. et al. Petrochemical releases disproportionately affected socially vulnerable populations along the Texas Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey. Popul Environ 42, 279–301 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-020-00362-6

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Keywords

  • Hurricane Harvey
  • Petrochemical release
  • Environmental justice
  • Na-tech disaster