Manchester, Texas: Tip of the Environmental Nightmare

by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s choice as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, should hear the children's voices in Houston’s Manchester community, whose life prospects have been shrunken by environmental racism. “We are being poisoned and we want to know why this is being allowed.”


Manchester, Texas: Tip of the Environmental Nightmare

by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

The Houston community of Manchester is another case-book example of a ‘sacrifice zone,’ a community designated as disposable and its people insignificant.”

Last week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will presided over the confirmation hearing of Gina McCarthy, the Obama Administration nominee for Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

Communities of color, such as the Latino neighborhood of Manchester in the east end of Houston, Texas, are asking what Ms. McCarthy, if confirmed, will do to protect their children from the ever-expanding oil and petrochemical companies that are destroying their health. The Houston community of Manchester is another case-book example of a “sacrifice zone,” a community designated as disposable and its people insignificant. Tragically, Manchester is zoned as an industrial dump for refineries, incinerators, plants and storage facilities. The fact that human health has been adversely affected is not considered relevant by the captains of industry.

Surrounding the Manchester community is the Valero refinery, a trash incinerator; Rhodia chemical, Goodyear Tire, and Texas Petro-Chemical Group plants; Lyondell Basell refinery and Westway liquid storage terminals (massive tanks). Adding insult to the already overburdened community is a car crushing facility, 17 railway crossings, and a major highway with industrial trucks inundating the community 24 hours a day 365 days a year as they go to and from the Houston Ship Channel.

Residents of Manchester are questioning what Gina McCarthy will do to protect them.”

Manchester is also a primary target for tar sands refining on the Gulf Coast based on projects and contracts of two of the major players located there. In March 2013, Lyondell Basell’s CEO announced that the Houston refinery was nearly finished with an additional $50 million project planned to allow them to increase their tar sands refining capacity to 175,000 barrels a day. Valero has contract rights with TransCanada that allow them to purchase up to three-quarters of the capacity of Keystone XL. These are admittedly in preparation for the Keystone Oil Pipeline XL, that it is estimated would allow them to refine approximately a quarter of the pipeline’s capacity.

Residents of Manchester are standing up and speaking out about the human rights abuses they

endure and they are questioning what Gina McCarthy will do to protect them. The youth of Manchester have issued an open letter below to the EPA nominee:

Gina McCarthy,

If you become the new head of the EPA then you must be accountable for the human rights abuses that the EPA is allowing to persist in communities like ours. One need not do anything more than visit us here in Houston’s toxic East End in our neighborhood of Manchester to know that the air here is dangerously polluted, too dangerous to breathe. Air monitors have recorded levels of 1,3-butadiene, a known cancer-causing agent, in our neighborhood 20 times greater than what is allowed in a toxic waste dump.

Nearly all children here have persistent coughs, and we are plagued with sickness and headaches. We have come forward and documented countless stories of our illnesses and disease such as asthma, leukemia, and a variety of cancers all of which we attribute to the presence of the ever growing petrochemical industry. We are being poisoned and we want to know why this is being allowed.

We know that Valero and LyondellBasell routinely violate EPA laws and regulations, and that these corporations prosper at our expense. Manchester is almost completely Latino, and the average family here lives below the poverty line. The University of Texas’ School of Public Health has determined that we are forcibly being exposed to 7 different carcinogenic substances at any given time. This is environmental racism.

The air here is dangerously polluted, too dangerous to breathe.”

We live at the terminus of the toxic Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We have not been given a voice and we do not consent to tar sands refining in our community. Based on self reported data from these corporations, we know that refineries that will process tar sands like Valero and LyondellBasell cannot operate within federal law. Tar sands pipelines are leaking all over North America, just look at the health and environmental impacts that the community of Mayflower, Arkansas are experiencing. Something must be done to protect our community from toxic tar sands spills and emissions from the refining process.

Since our neighborhood has become a sacrifice zone for industry, we demand that those in our community who wish to leave and live somewhere safer be provided a fair price for their homes. The corporations who are responsible for polluting our neighborhood must be prosecuted and the funds be given to residents of Manchester as a form of compensation for the human rights abuses we have been forced to endure.

Gina, will you turn a blind eye to our suffering and let our community continue to die or will you relocate our community to a safer place to live and bring us justice and compensation for the way we are being exploited?”

EPA has a long history of failing to process environmental complaints filed by communities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against those who receive Federal funds. While this may not be applicable to these companies, the 1990 Clean Air Act amendment provided standards for roughly 160 hazardous air pollutants, all of which must be strictly regulated by industrial emitters.

For more information:, (see youtube and photographs from Manchester) and

Appreciation to Kathryn Stevens (Rue) and the Tar Sands Blockade Team for their assistance with this article.

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR.)