This is part of a Moms Clean Air Force series about the health impacts of methane:
Erandi Treviño, Houston, Texas
Close to two million Latinos in the US live within a half mile of oil and gas facilities. Latinos are three times more likely to be negatively affected by air pollution because of where they live and work.
Erandi Treviño was born in Mexico and came to Houston with her family when she was seven years old. One of her earliest memories of life in the US was seeing clouds of smoke coming out of the oil refineries along the Houston Ship Channel, a waterway used to transport oil, gas, and petrochemical products around the world. She didn’t fully understand the concept of air pollution; she just knew it was harmful.
Erandi went to school within a few miles of the Houston Ship Channel and was in fifth grade when she overheard adults talking about the health risks to children living near the ship channel. As an adult, she would learn that children who live within two miles of the ship channel were more likely to develop leukemia than the general population. Today, she and her family live about 10 miles from the channel, where more than 20 petrochemical plants are located. Her home is also next to a parking lot for 18-wheelers. These trucks emit diesel exhaust and add to the cumulative effects of living near oil and gas facilities.
According to a 2017 study. Texas fines only 3% of its industrial polluters. Without a penalty, oil and gas refineries don’t have a financial incentive to upgrade their equipment or reduce toxic air pollutants.
Because Erandi has chronic health issues, she wanted to start a business where she could set her own hours. She planted a nursery next to her house and planned to sell plants and help people establish rain gardens that could absorb excess water from flooding. But four or five days a week, Houston has high ozone days that cause Erandi to have trouble breathing outside. Pollutants, including methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that fuels the climate crisis, and VOCs from oil and gas facilities and other sources, combine with heat and sunlight to form ground-level ozone (also called smog). Smog is a powerful lung irritant. Erandi’s eyes water, and her skin burns due to fibromyalgia, a condition that makes people more sensitive to pain and changes in their environments.
Erandi’s family members, including two nieces, also suffer negative health impacts from living near the oil and gas industry. Her eight-year-old niece has itchy, red skin from eczema, a condition more common in urban areas with high levels of pollution. Her three-year-old niece has had breathing issues, congestion, runny noses, and disrupted sleep since she birth. “Kids get sick,” Erandi acknowledges, “but my nieces are sick too often.”
Everyone is affected by air pollution and climate change, but Black and brown communities, people with low incomes, and others on the frontlines are hit the hardest.
Erandi checks the weather app on her phone to monitor air quality, even though the app will probably not capture chemical leaks from the oil and gas plants. There have been dangerous leaks from the oil and gas facilities in her area, but people don’t always know about them because the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality doesn’t send out alerts that reach all residents and often doesn’t send alerts in Spanish. Erandi is advocating for more air monitoring and for language access for non-English speakers.
“Texans often talk about freedom and liberty. What about the right to breathe clean air and have a decent quality of life?”
Erandi joined Moms Clean Air Force as a field coordinator to advocate for clean air protections. She encourages people in her community to vote for representatives that have their best interests at heart and gathers people to speak up at state and federal public hearings to protect families from air pollution and climate change. In 2021, Erandi, along with moms across the country, provided comments to EPA on safeguards to cut methane and other harmful air contaminants from oil and gas operations. These protections would include addressing pollution from nearly one million older, existing oil and gas operations. For the rule to be effective, it will need to cover small wells that tend to have leak-prone equipment and eliminate pollution from routine flaring, which is the wasteful practice of burning off excess gas.
Erandi pointed to a 2020 study showing that living near oil and gas flaring in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas was associated with a 50% higher chance of premature birth—raising a baby’s risk of numerous disorders and even death—compared to mothers who were not exposed to gas flares. These adverse outcomes fell predominately on Latino families. This is an injustice and environmental racism. For the health of all Hispanic mothers and their babies, we must end the practice of routine flaring.
“It shouldn’t be up to communities of color to bear the burden of pollution so that the oil and gas industry can profit. Industry should be required to run their operations safely and without harming public health.”
In addition to the negative health effects, oil and gas pollution also contributes to climate change and extreme weather conditions, like the stronger hurricanes, winter storms, and intense heat that Houston has been experiencing. While many families in Texas have been touched by these climate impacts, not everyone has the same resources to deal with them.
When Erandi’s family’s home was flooded during Hurricane Harvey, they could not afford to fix the damage quickly and lived together in one room while the house was repaired piece by piece. It was a traumatic time for the family, and Erandi’s niece is still terrified every time there are rainstorms. The family’s home was again damaged by Winter Storm Uri. This storm caused the state’s power grid to fail. Hundreds of people froze to death, and millions went without basic necessities like drinking water.
In 2022, Erandi graduated from Fordham University School of Law and looks forward to using her law degree to advocate for a safer environment for herself, her family, and her community. She’s hopeful about the future: “I’m optimistic. More people are becoming conscious about the changes we need to make to clean up the air and protect public health. A future where everyone can breathe clean air is possible.”