Hillcrest, a poor neighborhood of Corpus Christi, Texas, is the home of two oil refineries, Citgo and Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc. There has been recent speculation that these refineries, more specifically Flint Hills, are releasing various toxins into the air which can cause serious medical problems.
According to a 2010 study, Flint Hills and Citgo refineries released 26 various pollutants into the air; 25,000 pounds of toluene, 25,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide, 19,000 pounds of benzene, and 11,000 pounds of sulfuric acid. Many residents blame the pollutants for causing cancer, chronic asthma, birth defects and other cancers. Latricia Jones, a resident of Hillcrest, reports the cause of her son’s asthma is due to the toxins released by the refineries. Jim and Bobi Miller live a quarter mile from the Flint Hills west plant and believe Bobi’s rare lung disease is due to the air she breathes. Recent public health studies show elevated rates of asthma, birth defects and cancer near oil refineries. These residents would like to move father away but they can simply not afford to move since rent and housing is much cheaper near the refineries.
After receiving her Ph.D., Melissa Jarrell decided to move to Corpus Christi in 2005 to study environmental crime. Jarrell is the author of Environmental Crime and the Media and discovered that Koch-owned refineries had the highest number of environmental violations country wide in 2000 to 2001. Koch Industries paid the highest civil environmental fine in American history of $35 million in 2000. Koch Industries caused almost 100,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Corpus Christi bay due to a damaged pipeline and have deceived regulators about their ability to control releases of benzene, which can cause cancers.
Texas has lax environmental regulation and Corpus Christi offers local tax incentives and an industry-friendly city government, making this an ideal location for refineries. The two Koch brothers have profited from this leading to a combined personal fortune of $ 62 billion. Katie Stavinoha, Flint Hills spokesperson, states that there is “no link between refinery pollutants and chronic illness.”
Sources: “Kochworld” The Texas Observer, October 24, 2012 http://www.texasobserver.org/kochworld/
“Kochworld” The Investigative Fund, October 25, 2012 http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/investigations/envirohealth/1716/kochworld/
“Kochworld” Association of Alternative Newsmedia, October 29, 2012 http://www.altweeklies.com/aan/kochworld/Story?oid=6712714
Student Researchers: Kirsten Bigelow and Hope Jordan
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley
Evaluator: James Mills, Professor of Geosciences and Chair of the Geosciences Department, DePauw University