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Bill To Limit Use Of Chemicals In Firefighting Foams, Local Effects Of A Trade War With China, Coach For Houston’s New Pro Football Team, And More

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Top afternoon stories:

David J. Phillip/AP
This file photo shows firefighters battling the fire at ITC’s, petrochemical facility in Deer Park.

Bill To Limit Use Of Chemicals In Firefighting Foams

First responders have to use special foams to put out chemical fires like the recent ones in Deer Park and Crosby. The foams themselves may pose health risks, and Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher is trying to do something about it.

Studies have linked key chemicals in those firefighting foams to thyroid problems, immune deficiencies and cancer. The components are known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Fletcher is sponsoring a bill that would direct the EPA to issue guidance about how to minimize the use of PFAS without putting first responders' lives at risk.

Firefighters used more than 130,000 gallons of foam to put out the ITC fire in Deer Park in March. High levels of PFAS were later found in the Houston Ship Channel, while lower levels were found further downstream, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Local Effects Of A Trade War With China

When it comes to the Trump administration's growing trade war with China, Houston's industry is probably better insulated than the rest of the U.S., according to experts.

Steve Lewis, the China fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute, told Houston Matters that China typically imports only what it can't produce domestically – and on which it's willing to pay a premium.

"If they're getting something from Houston, it's usually something they really need," Lewis said. "It's usually something like energy-related equipment [or] specific chemicals or plastics that actually are cheaper here than they are in China, because we have source supply coming from shale oil and shale gas."

Lewis also said there's another big risk to the Houston economy from a trade war with China. If slowing trade hurts China's economy enough, Chinese demand for energy will drop. That in turn could drive down the price of crude oil.

Gabrielle Keene for Houston Public Media
NFL coaching veteran June Jones is the the new head coach for Houston’s XFL franchise.

Coach For Houston's New Pro Football Team

Houston's XFL franchise has hired football coaching veteran June Jones as its new head coach.

Jones, a former professional football player himself, has coached at the high school, college and professional level since 1983. He was the head coach for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and quarterbacks coach for the Houston Oilers in the 1990s, among many others.

His last coaching job was in the Canadian Football League.

The XFL is a new pro football league that will have its first season next year after the NFL's Super Bowl.

The league, which owns all eight of its teams, was created by Vince McMahon, the owner of wrestling company WWE. It's meant to be a faster, more affordable alternative – or complement – to the NFL.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Senate Bill 53 strikes a provision in current law that says handguns aren't allowed in "churches, synagogues, or other places of worship."

Bill Allowing Handgun Owners To Carry Weapons In Church

More than a year after a gunman killed 26 people in a Sutherland Springs church, the Texas House gave preliminary approval Monday to a bill that would allow licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship.

The legislation — Senate Bill 535 by Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels — strikes a provision in current law that says handguns aren't allowed in "churches, synagogues, or other places of worship."

To be clear, churches would still be able to prohibit licensed citizens from carrying firearms on their premises so long as they provide oral or written notice.

Campbell's bill codifies a previous opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton sought shortly after the shooting in Sutherland Springs. In the opinion, Paxton stated that "unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows."

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