Health & Science

Texas Docs Get More Active On The Environment

Some Texas doctors are becoming more active in environmental politics, calling for stricter regulation of air pollution, fracking and workplace hazards. One physician says doctors who ignore the environment are not getting the full medical picture of their patients' health.

Dr. Wesley Stafford stands on the front line when it comes to air pollution. He’s an asthma and allergy specialist in Corpus Christi, which has a number of petroleum refineries.

“Acute changes in the levels of air pollution are certainly associated with health problems. The best examples are when ozone gets high and then typically we see increased numbers of people hitting in the emergency room with asthma.”

Stafford says he decided to get involved when a company proposed to build a new power plant in the city.

The Las Brisas plant would burn a substance called petroleum coke.

Stafford and other doctors in Nueces County testified that soot and other chemicals from the plant would cause more heart and lung damage, and even premature death.  

“So our entire medical society for the first time ever came out and said ‘We should not have this facility built here.’ We’ve never opposed the construction of any kind of a business anywhere, but when we looked at this risks involved in a plant like this one, we came out in opposition.”

Stafford was angered when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ignored his data and approved permits for the plant.

Now there’s a lawsuit over the issue.

But Stafford says other doctors are also getting involved with environmental issues. Physicians in north Texas want tighter regulation of hydrofracking.

Other doctors are asking their patients about workplace safety and exposure to toxic substances.

“It seems to be obvious to me, as we look out there, that we need to be as involved as we possibly can.”

Stafford says that among other changes, he wants the governor to appoint a physician or an expert in public health to the TCEQ.