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Friday, March 31, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 123

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Industry causes massive smog, sniffles

Melanie Melançon

Cough, cough ... I can't breathe. I wonder why? Perhaps it's the smog that is normal to a city with healthy industry. Or maybe it's the smoke from the Phillips plant explosion, its fourth in one year and the third fatal explosion in ten years Could it be the tire fire on Wednesday morning? Or maybe it's the Gulf Supply Paint warehouse that caught fire Thursday morning. I'm pretty sure our smog isn't a result of healthy industry.

What's wrong with this picture? How can so many things go wrong in one week? Of course, the smog has been here for a while now. I don't think we'll be getting rid of that.

The problem is, the fines for being unsafe and environmentally unsound just aren't as large as the cost to correct the problems.

The government can shut down small-time gas stations who can't afford to update their gasoline storage tanks or pay the fine not to, but big oil companies just toss the fines out like coins in a fountain.

The city was suing Gulf Supply Paint in order to prevent things like warehouse fires and pouring paint into the bayou. I guess our crocodiles are going to be strangely colored for a while. But apparently the company didn't really care either way.

It's not just a matter of how much the fines are; it's also a matter of how often the companies get caught. They get to gamble on whether or not they can make things look good when the inspectors are going to be around.

Have you ever driven along highway 225? The stench is comparable to a skunk -- or worse. The times the plants are burning is rather interesting. It seems they don't burn as much during the day. Sunny days often provide a good view of a calm smokestack. The flames are higher and brighter at night and on cloudy and rainy days. Somehow, I don't think rainy days are when the inspectors come to call.

The most disturbing times come when lives are lost because of safety issues. Granted, this last Phillips' explosion was nothing compared to the 1989 incident, but it was definitely something to the 74 injured, the one person who died and their families.

Some people may be able to ignore it, saying it's just one of those things, but it doesn't have to be. Shell hasn't had anywhere near the number of accidents Phillips 66 has. Elf Atochem in Crosby hasn't had a safety issue in years. Nuclear power plants have fewer problems than Phillips.

If you live nowhere near Deer Park or Pasadena and don't know anyone from there, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with you. Well, when you drive to school and see a strange hazy area that's just slightly darker than the rest of the sky -- you know, the one that's almost a brownish gray -- that's the smog problem everyone's talking about. The bigger it gets, the more likely you are to be affected by it. The really fun part is when something blows up and toxic chemicals go flying everywhere.

Have you ever noticed you can smell Maxwell House from campus when the wind is just right? Just imagine if Maxwell House was refining chemicals instead of coffee. At least we haven't had any explosions there.

We're all choking on what's in the air. If it isn't the smog itself that's making us choke, it's the allergies that keep us from breathing. Have you noticed a large number of sniffly people around lately? Maybe it's not just ragweed and pollen.

Melançon, who hasn't been able to breathe all week, 
can be reached at mrm58655@bayou.uh.edu.

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