And welcome to punch path this is your host jared. Blumenfeld this is ABC News Special Report Hurricane Harvey State of emergency. You're looking at some of the first images to come out of rockport Texas which was hit by the Hurricane Harvey overnight at around ten thirty take time in August twenty seventeen Hurricane Havi hit landfall in Houston Texas and within just four days it it rained more than forty inches his leading to unprecedented flooding by the time Hobby was finished more than thirty thousand people had been displaced in one hundred seven people had lost their lies is harvey inflicted more than one hundred and twenty five billion dollars in damage in fact. This hurricane was so bad the weather service retired the name yeah look at the rain coming down on Marco once again. Let's and tonight greater. Houston remains paralysed a region of six point eight million people sheltering in place as the flooding in disaster unfolds and just behind me. You can see downtown Houston. This is the buffalo by you but you can't tell where the value ends and the downtown starts much and it's still continuing grain. I have never experienced anything like the imagine that it was on this catastrophic like this on Saturday the EPA confirmed thirteen Texas superfund sites are flooded or potentially damaged. SUPERFUND sites are known as being the most contaminated places in the country hearing doing hobbies. The refineries admitted that this charging millions more pounds of toxic gases into the they shut down on burnt off their excess chemicals it turns out in the aftermath. Kamov Havi environmental justice communities started to notice that instead of just rebuilding many chemical companies using the disaster to expand into a new new area plastics. I sit down with Yvette Ariana. WHO's with the houston-based Texas Environmental Justice Services or tejas which is dedicated dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable environmentally healthy communities event graduated from the University of Houston and is a first generation college graduate with a degree in political science and a graduate degree from the University of Houston's Pre law program. I stopped by asking you had to describe her communities experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The experience was that we had two separate floods we had a flood of water devastate communities and destroy homes and people's lives and also a second flooding leading that involve toxic for six months post. Hurricane Harvey we had plants having fugitive emissions with no monitoring naw enforcement sment neither. EPA neither or the Texas Commission on environmental quality was stepping into do any enforcement actions. It was disaster capitalism despised. I just what the industries were willing to take advantage of in the small window when the permanent processes were down. They were expedited right. There was a lack of enforcement forcement so no monitoring for up to six months under natural disaster proclamations by Governor Greg Abbott and so they were running rampant and wild and what better opportunity to seize than after a natural disaster so we saw these expansions happen here and then not just throughout Houston but all the way down to Corpus Christi so everyone you're talking about first responders CDs eighties local officials counties were trying to generate as much revenue without losing as much during this period of reconstruction the more grievous part of that was the fact that here you had frontline communities devastated by toxic impacts because you have facilities that were also flooded and waters and those waters were shared with the communities they sat next to and yet when we reached out to EPA to try and get answers on whether or not there were toxic exposures or industrial chemicals that leeched out into neighborhoods. We were consistently told No. We knew that wasn't true. Three days. After the heaviest rains we took a helicopter flight with thirty Greenpeace and the containment dykes the containment dykes are supposed to keep any leached chemicals inside of barriers so that they're not shared with the general public right or local environment. They were breached. I mean they fell. We saw happen again with the intercontinental terminals fire that happened in Houston which is one of the largest chemical disasters in our history and it involved above ground storage tanks with more beat stocks that go into plastic classics production but we weren't hearing the plastic saying well. We weren't hearing what these chemicals are going to go and make we were hearing. How benzene is cancer causing we were hearing how tally lean and some of the other chemicals smell like nail. Polish but not exactly like what are they going to go and make right and folks weren't necessarily concerned with either because you have children who are like four five like small children. are having nose bleeds in communities. He's and trying to understand that you know and trying to seek help from that angle so this this expansion either post hurricane harvey and continues to attack the Gulf coast and Gulf coast communities like Houston like Corpus like those in Saint James Parish Louisiana Right. They're going after the most vulnerable populations poorest communities the most disenfranchised folks who's a local representatives resentatives. Don't do a good job of protecting their own interests. Why because there's big money involved there's petrochemical interest and oil interests backing them the mop we had been seeing spills and communities like Manchester large above ground storage tank facilities basically move or shift off of their platforms mm sore the floating tank sort of fall into chemical substances and unleashes an ungodly amount of toxic on frontline communities and that's. That's our focus focus. Our communities are the communities that live next to refineries because in Houston. There's no zoning so there's no law that says it's illegal to build a plant next to a hospital in an elementary school a daycare or community so we were having to deal with the fugitive emissions going on on the East Stanton so the west side of does so what is a fugitive emission a fugitive emission is an unplanned emission from chemical or oil refinery and it tends to you know the images you see with fugitive emissions are large plumes of black smoke verses a consistent flare with no smoke. There's like a leak yeah just like a leak except every single facility along the Houston ship channel which is about fifty two mile stretch that makes up the largest petrochemical complex in the nation. The second largest in the world was flaring in having fugitive emissions consistently so one after another it was almost like a an endless cycle of this happening so even after the waters sort of flushed back into our waters communities. We're we're still experiencing this lack of enforcement and then the process trying to recoup their lives other rebuilding homes trying to get back on track with replacing things that they'd lost and not being able to replace things like memories trying to get their families back together and just knives back to normal but in that process oil and gas asph refineries and extractive industries along the stretch were also filling out the same similar types of paperwork to recoup any lost prophet so so to give you an example if the Houston ship channel closes for one single day it loses a million dollars in profit so recoup funds also also had to go to the fact that these industries were affected by flood waters in mind. You folks are still trying to recover any lost funds. They still had to pay out of pocket DOC. Id while oil and gas industries and petrochemical plants were able to get their money's fast. I mean you know if the backbone of Texas and Houston as the energy capital of the nation and so we start seeing these massive expansion `projects and we didn't understand the beginning you know you look out into the stretch. You're used to seeing and you see cranes writing. You're assuming they're there to pick up rubble and debris. We were trying to get. EPA to respond to the fact community members were saying that their skins were irritated and burning skin burning throats is and we found out that it was a bending spill right. We were getting calls from community. Members over residue that was landing on their homes are ash so all these things from different plants. I mean we have about five refineries and over one hundred different chemicals subsidiaries throughout that entire stretch so there were a couple of articles that started coming out and revealing bad the petrochemical industry was growing and expanding post Hurricane Harvey where we thought they were simply just modifying and making sure things didn't happen again an and it all started tying back into Houston and the petrochemical complex is investing in plastic so so those were the first steps and we didn't fully grasp onto what was going on because our concern and our focus had been for so long toxic exposure so the irritation tation of your skin right reproductive issues developmental issues in children and how to uplift this narrative that was lost and forgotten of communities that live in the shadows or our communities that live in the shadows of industry and weren't so much concerned about where those chemicals were going or what they were going to end up as whether it was opened your plastic pellets or anything like that so when we were approached. We were still in the process of recovery. I mean organization was putting together reentry pacts because we were dealing with mold and homes that were devastated by floodwater or that wasn't present in the beginning still reconstruction and so when we we were told these are the chemical feedstocks or actually when we were first brought to the plastic conversation. We let folks know. We don't work on recycling clean. That's not something we do not as toxic exposure sort of Angoor public health angle. It's not part of our realities. You know so when did did that change for you so are stopped in sort of told that this wasn't a recycling pitch that this had to do with the chemicals that go into manufacturing plastics for snapshot. I I mean I didn't even realize right that these things things that we were surrounded by every day like a bottle of water would have come from chemicals. I mean of course right. It's absurd not to think that but that's not what my work revolves around so so I gave it a listen and I read the materials and realized that the list that we'd been collecting on the expansion projects since those first articles came out revealing the expansion projects had to do with this gross of ethene ethylene crackers including before we go any further events and what is an ethylene cracker. It's a type of chemical production and manufacturing that produces chemical feedstocks that are the building blocks of plastic and so we started seeing these units inside of these petrochemical plants or I've never seen gene an ethylene cracker like if you just described kind of how bad it is what it looks like kind of what it's doing and what gets spit out the other end and ethylene cracker looks like this massive towering structure that well over ten stories stories toll. If it's in regular condition it's not fuming or gassing off it has no smoke behind it but there's this ever-present hum in communities and it's almost like a from every single moment of you being and living next to it so it's present and you can never forget. It's there until you know you start becoming numb to the process process. It smells like any other piece of petrochemical unit right especially. If it's having issues or malfunctions it is usually attached attached to a larger structure because the actual unit is simply a processing unit. That's attached to these massive above ground storage tanks that will hold any sort of chemicals produced that then are attached to a flare and a flare is almost equally as tall if not taller than the ethylene cracker acker and the flare especially for new units is a persistent flame that is present in your neighborhood. If you live right next to one and the flame can get larger at night where you're seeing you know people talk about light pollution right but who's who's going outside at one. Am NC's not a purple sky but an orange sky because you have so many flares back to back to back a you don't don't ever have complete darkness and then those are the flares that for the last week in Houston. We've been seeing billow up with large plumes of black smoke and you just never know when that's going to happen. You never know when a large plume is going to happen. been how long it's GonNa last if you should leave or not if you should shelter in place and that would be like turning off your conditioning closing your windows and doors who's covering your windows and doors and plastics. That's between like four to six millimeters thick right. You're covering your home in plastic and you're trying to get away from it. In temperatures that right now sit at the high nineties to early hundreds right and you have to do this until that entire sort sort of event is over so you never know when that's going to happen how often it's going to happen. If you're outside for some reason playing with your kids then you have your kids who are exposed and what are you going to do. You know it's like come on. Let's go inside because of that thing that happens every so often you wake up at around you know three or four in the morning because your chest is heavy with any sort of symptoms that the chemicals are actually flaring up even though you've now got a focus on on plastic factories. There's a lot of pollution solution. Neil community that comes from other sources. There's cumulative impacts coming from the entire sort of extractive infrastructure around that's it's multiple facilities and multiple refineries sitting on top of each other so waking up not being able to breathe or not being able to take a walk around and in the afternoon because everybody's told to give an hour of exercise and you can't do that in your local park you don't. WanNa let your kids outside because it it smells and you know that the smell probably carry some sort of toxic. You don't know exactly what being afraid to garden or pick tomatoes it infringes on your entire life in its present throughout. That's the hardest part is it takes away it. It takes away your right to live a regular yeah. We're life Arcadian. Example Houston's lined Obama sell facility was on the brink of bankruptcy because they had suffered so many just public embarrassments that were even featured in Bloomberg News spotlighting the fact that here's a facility that's over one hundred years old that can't keep up with modern times and so it was about to fold because like I said in Houston we have this issue where you have a petrochemical implant and it's not sitting there alone its seating surrounded by other petrochemical plants which makes it difficult to point at which one is killing your neighborhood so they were unsuccessful and instead they invested over two million dollars in. Ethin- cracker and boom they were back in business and that was going on with a series of plants that were either facing high times or they had this reconstruction money money. They had to play with to like how much additional plastic production was being created. just from individual plant projects we saw like I said had over two million over at lined up with cell we also went to the ExxonMobil stakeholders meeting that they had around same year and learned that Exxon Mobil loan was going to be flushing the Gulf coast with over twenty billion dollars worth of infrastructure in the Gulf coast over projects related to plastics six and so I mean you obviously didn't come into this with the plastics perspective you came in from a community health and environmental justice so tell us about what you've learned as you've led more about plastics and and what this change means. I've learned that communities like ours and organizations sounds like ours are still in this learning process in learning curve of taking a moment to acknowledge that the toxic exposure exposure going on but that plastic is one of the largest reasons why the petrochemical industry is growing wing exponentially and also the types of chemicals that for so long. We've been fighting. I've learned the relationship between the exposure the chemical names and the side effects that they're bringing to our communities. That's a relationship I didn't see before right so I would hear about styrene gene intelligently in one three beauty and we at this point knew that they caused you know everything from developmental issues slower speech development it meant sterility in neighborhoods a slew of different cancers asthma memory loss lack of balance nerve system damage right so we knew the side effects and bringing that to the plastics fight was sort of our our largest just contribution and also learning about how these same chemicals are also present during not only the production of chemical feedstocks but the production of the products themselves the extraction from the wellhead and also present through inspiration in communities who struggle with that so as a result of learning this becoming a world expert. You'd probably like Oh my God who knew that I'd become a weld expert and plastics and ethylene crackers. How do you view your role in the debate about plastics. Yeah I would say that has been my largest goal in goal so many frontline folks were advocating and now joining the plastics conversation is just like any other movement whether it was keep it in the ground movement event or you know stopping pipelines. It's a we talk about the impacts on the year which are so crucial to our own existence. We talk about the impacts tax to vulnerable animal life right which is again crucial to our existence too but there's a fear of talking about hurting hurting people killing people people dying because of the destruction that these chemicals that affected the earth our water systems our animal life life. There's a reluctance to accept that people are being hurt in this process and that there's no way we can. There's no way that we can continue talking about the issues of plastics if we don't see the entire ecosystem as a whole and how it's completely interwoven and also acknowledged the fact that it's vulnerable communities that lack the resources that suffer from an intersection of issues whether it's food security a lack of healthcare healthcare you know all these different issues. We need to acknowledge that. We're killing our communities that are the most will both rural and urban poor white and poor people of color so event so given that how the communities that you representing how they viewing in plastics now differently in in their lives and how you can train to communique these huge problems associated with plastics to to a broader audience which one. I've gone to talk to communities and other advocates. I relayed it back to the work that we're all doing because that's the most important in pivotal part about the frontline struggle is that we are the experts of what's going on. We understand how we're being physically affected affected. Our communities are being killed the toxic symptoms we understand all that it's just bringing that in with this is what happens to those those chemicals after they've left sort of those storage tanks in those facilities because they never leave right there actually being made nonstop. It's just this is their next leg and bringing forth the the entire life cycle of plastics from fracking back to transport to production to consumption and waste oceans and then back to extraction through offshore oil extraction. Shen so bringing that entire life cycle to light. That's something that break free has done for so elegantly and eloquently. It has been crucial official to that missing puzzle piece of the work. We're doing so in terms of the wells largest plastic plastic production like most people I think if they read the newspaper or care about plastic they would think that plastic productions on the downturn Dan and yet from everything else saying it sounds like people investing more and more to get more and more plastic doesn't tempt of your understanding of the industry like why they shifting being from other uses to now create more plastic oil and gas has traditionally been seen as something to fuel our cars cars and other conventional uses and I feel that as we keep going towards renewables and adjust transition over into or away from fossil fuels that just like anybody else who has any other entity that it has a limitless limitless dream of resources. You're going to find ingenuity of ways to sort of plug the chemicals that you've been making and become an expert in making for decades into the everyday lives of people who are listening to your show and there's no real recognition of how exactly they're doing it. Whether it's conversations over it's not just single use plastics or plastic bottles. It's also synthetic fibres offers right. It's technology becoming obsolescent at a faster pace so I think that oil and gas and petrochemicals chemicals to grasp at every single Straw. That's left until we bring to light how toxic it's been how L. Unapologetic. It's been at killing everything and destroying our resources so they're fighting. I mean they're finding they're seeing a dialogue and in a narrative being written that's honest and truthful and something that everyone can understand even folks who haven't spent an entire lifetime working specifically plastics like myself so that's what I see is going on. So how are you fighting these new facilities especially the ones that were built up the time when Hurricane Harvey you thought they witnessed cleaning up their act. Are you initiating lawsuits or like how are you and your community approaching stopping some of these developments so it's not just me and my community but there are so many advocates across the nation that our grassroots. Ludd from environmental justice organizations and others that are fledging lawsuits again. The work is being being done to end the extraction fossil fuels. It's just where's that tie in with plastic. So folks have been working on stopping pipelines being being constructed new ones fighting permit challenges on expanding facilities speaking to students community members advocates and the research search field so that they can help us answer certain questions about plastics or help bring technical expertise to some of the projects objects happening. That's what we're doing and it's a little bit from every bucket but we know that grassroots organizations pins. I mean we don't just stick to one script. We go wherever we're needed any questions that our community members have those of the problems that we're going to tackle. Oh it's beautiful to see grassroots involved now because we come from so many different angles of this same issue that is plastics and have a wider range and more capacity ESI mind. You were still very small organizations. We do it because we have to because that's our survival. Has it affected you personally like how do you view plastic now differently than four years ago after starting the plastics work. I see it as a it's a fossil fuel fight. It's a fight fight against big oil and it's affected me because I'm able to one bring the same passion and fight to plastics six that I have been for years on oil and gas it's exhausting because of how quickly these petrochemical plants are able to grow and the new projects that we have to pull up every day so it makes it hard because the target is moving and it's moving quicker than what we have capacity for and my hope is that new advocates are brought into the plastic circle and that the message is elevated to a point where we have people from even a non affected areas joining in and talking about plastics in a way that's not only plastics recycling but plastics is oil plastics classics is fossil fuels plastics is killing us and it's a disease that we need to act on now at the beginning you're talking about so the only thing that people can do is cover the windows and plastic sheeting and it just kind of made me think about all of our lives and how plastic is absolutely absolutely everywhere not going to have a plastic free life tomorrow. So how do you cope. It's the fact that we're not doing this for our existence assistance so we're not taking on oil and gas or extractive industries or plastics for that matter thinking that we're going to solve it within our lifetime my lifetime. This is work that setting the foundation for the next generations to come. It's four survival but that we have to be realistic in a way and think about taking on the advocacy with hundred year plans that I'll start off or the person before me has started off said Foundation Shen that I took on and that that work will go so far with me and then pass that on that's the importance of bringing use voices into into the struggled now or this challenge now so that we can start feeding all of the information all of the challenges the technicalities the the geopolitics of the space in to their knowledge so that they can take it on with their generation incorporating youth voices consistently and continuously because we need to reenergize the movement with new blood right consistently. It's a flow just like these crackers on. These plants never stop producing new. We can't stop producing new advocates and New People to take on our challenges this so this is everybody struggle and everyone needs to get involved no matter what age because at some point you're going to be standing at the forefront front and making sure that you know in the process. You don't leave somebody behind because you don't want that struggle to stop. We can't there's no option. Where do you live relative to these facilities. So I live in the eastern. Sit down the way from MMA Valera refining in the beginning of that petrochemical stretch and we were just talking about how none none of us in the movement especially in the Environmental Justice Movement sort of come on because we're recruited or anything it's because we're personally suffering spring with things either. We lost someone along the way and that's pushed us in our work or own. Health is affected an when ever we do you on the ground canvassing to make sure that people come out to public hearings. One of the things that we share is skin issues so out forever. Have you know chemical sensitivities in skin issues in whenever I come and knock on somebody's door the first thing they see and I used to be really ashamed about it but I realized that it's something that also gives me skin in the game and allows me to sort of talk to folks who are struggling with the same thing about you know how we're managing it and gives us a a start to the conversation. Like why do we have this. This isn't the same story that everyone's painted for us that it's hereditary or for that. It's a a diet based. You know these are trespasses on our body because of the exposures at the fence line. What would you want people to do. I want them to look at their own backyard. I want them to to look at the environmental justice community or the affected community in their cities because there's an effective community in every cities whether you're talking being about incinerators and the communities that live next to those petrochemicals and the communities that live there because these are all people that live in the shadow who nobody recognizes their existence and that's important that's important piece we can't just look at documentaries that spotlight the suffering in other places but we have to realize that we live in a first world nation that has a courageous violations of human rights in our own backyard so I want them discover what that community is and also also carry an understanding that plastics is more than just a a straw. Bam Bam that it is part of our fight for survival. Thank you so much area no for talking with US Today Events Discovery Cavalry that the Post Harvey rebuilding efforts we use to Moscow. The expansion of plastics manufacturing is truly disturbing. This is a global industry that already generates more than three hundred million tons of plastic a year to really need more plastics. I'd always seen this as an issue in the context of marine pollution or how much we recycling and I wanNA thank you vet for opening my eyes to the health equity and justice consequences of frontline communities live next to ethylene crackers. This human dimension to plastics can no longer be overlooked in the next episode of Project Path. We talk with Beth Gardner about air pollution which globally killed seven seven million people every year and the innovative solutions to turning this problem around. Thank you so much being part of the pudgy birth journey from the entire podgy birth crew sound engineer upstate executive producer David Kernan for me jared Blumenfeld. Let's hope that when the next disaster strikes we rebuild for the future rather rather than replicating the west of the pasta own.