Rita Carlson often referred to herself as just a Texas City housewife, but that was only part of who she was. Before Carlson and her family moved to rural Illinois in April 1990, she also was the first president of Texas POWER, People Organized to Win Environmental Rights, a statewide coalition of grass-roots environmental groups, and president of the Galveston County Environmental Division.
Carlson’s successful campaigns for environmental change included getting a Texas Air Control Board benzene monitor installed at an Amoco Oil employee baseball field in Texas City. “”I know the air here is bad,” she said. “”We have 9,000 emission points into the air from local industry. The highest levels of benzene were picked up right here. Benzene causes cancer. ” Since the monitor went up, benzene levels have come down.
Carlson also campaigned against industry piping waste water to open drainage ditches in Texas City, and against the use of hay-trap filtration systems.
Asked about the effectiveness of hay traps — simply piles of hay through which waste water is run — John Ward, water quality manager for the Texas Water Commission, District 7, said, “”Hay bales are often used as final treatment for oils and solids that come from contaminated storm waters. ” Carlson was involved in another Texas City environmental problem in 1987, when hydrofluoric acid was accidentally released into the air from a Marathon Oil facility. Among those affected were Karen Davis and her 11-year-old son, Chris. Davis said she received eye drops to counteract the effect of the airborne acid on her eyes, but her son was not treated. As a result, she said, he wears bifocals. Davis said she received an out-of-court settlement from Marathon and moved from Texas City to Dickinson.
Not everyone is concerned about the potential danger of hazardous wastes. Ken Sirmons, a fruit and vegetable vendor operating alongside a roadway in the Texas City and La Marque area, said he was not worried about working near Motco, one of the EPA’s highest priority cleanup sites in Texas.
“”If it was gonna hurt anybody,” he said, “”they’d shut it down. ” Motco, located at FM 519 and Texas 46, is the name of a site where waste pits were used by area industries for years to dump petrochemical byproducts. The U.S. government and the companies that used it are sharing the cost of its cleanup.