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Ship Channel community has cancer risk from carbon emissions

90 to 250 times greater

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Residents of Galena Park, a community just north of Houston’s Ship Channel, have an increased risk of cancer due to diesel emissions from ships and trucks coming to and from the Ship Channel, according to a study by Air Alliance Houston and Rice University, as detailed by the Houston Chronicle:

The non-profit Air Alliance Houston looked at small particles in the community, which is nestled among petrochemical titans, and found the gravest cancer threat in the air could come from mere ships and trucks.

Bel Vasquez-St. John, who helped conceive the project and has worked in Galena Park for more than a decade, said she wouldn’t be surprised if trucks - not ships - were now the community’s biggest concern, especially on Clinton Drive, which runs parallel to the Ship Channel on its north flank.

“It’s like Clinton Drive is the actual entrance to the Port,” she said. “Trucks constantly are lining up so they can deliver or pick up.”


Air Alliance Houston asked the laboratory to run an analysis of something called elemental carbon. When the amount of elemental carbon is known, scientists can calculate how much of the pollution in a given place is likely to come from diesel engines. Diesel engine exhaust is increasingly viewed by researchers as an important health hazard. It’s more complicated than it looks. It can contain arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde, and has the potential to contribute to mutations in cells that can lead to cancer, according to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California, which says “long-term exposure to diesel exhaust particles poses the highest cancer risk of any toxic air contaminant.”

Rice University then took the estimated diesel emissions and translated that into cancer risk. The highest risks were calculated at the air station on the Galena Park police station and at the Head Start preschool.

Thomas Stock, an exposure expert at the UT School of Public Health, reviewed the data that showed the increased cancer risk to be between 90 and 250 times greater than what many scientists consider acceptable—which is defined as one extra cancer per one million people. Stock said he believes the increased cancer risk from diesel is the project’s most important yield, even if the limited data does beg for further study.

“Certainly they are concentrations we should worry about,” he said. “Everything points to diesel traffic as being the biggest risk for this community.”

Photo: Louis Vest

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