EPA Mapping Tool Shows Houston’s Hot Spots Of Toxic Risk

We’ve told you about toxic waste sites, industrial plants that pollute and other environmental threats in and around Houston. Now, there’s a way to see exactly what neighborhoods might be most vulnerable.

EPA map
The EPA mapping tool highlights “vulnerable” neighborhoods near sites that handle very hazardous substances. Screengrab from the EJSCREEN mapping tool


What neighborhoods in Houston are most vulnerable to bad ozone days? Which ones are most at risk because of facilities that use extremely hazardous chemicals? Which have buildings with the most lead paint?

“It was hard to find solid data,” says Mark Corrales, a senior analyst with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.

“What we have now with this tool, we’re able to apply the latest technology and huge data sets,” Corrales told News 88.7.

Corrales is talking about a mapping tool he helped develop and that you can now use on the EPA’s website.

We went to the site and pulled up a map of Houston and, not surprisingly, the eastern half of it showed concentrations of vulnerable neighborhoods. It’s where so many refineries and chemical plants are located.

“In a lot of places yes, the tool is going to show you what you expect,” says Matthew Tejeda, who is director the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and was previously an activist in Houston.

“But it also shows you other places where you might not be expecting. I think there are sites of concern or potential threat all over the Houston region just a couple blocks away from where people live that they’ve probably never noticed before,” Tejada says.

Tejada says the tool takes into account the income and racial make-up of neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods at risk from toxic sites can be seen on the map just south of the Woodlands, others are bordering the Westpark Tollway, and still others are in rural areas miles from the city.

The EPA says the mapping tool can help Texas officials implement programs to better protect the most at-risk neighborhoods. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told us they haven’t fully evaluated the tool yet and said they want to make sure it provides accurate information before they use it.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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