Longview has ‘hot spot’ for cancer-causing air, according to ProPublica report

Longview “hot spot” centers around Eastman Chemical Co. plant
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Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:32 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:41 PM CST
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - A recent ProPublica analysis shows that one of the country’s toxic air pollution “hot spots” is the East Texas city of Longview.

The nonprofit investigative news organization used existing data from the Environmental Protection Agency to create a map showing the worst areas for carcinogens. From 2014 to 2018, they traced thousands of sources of hazardous air pollution across the country.

Lisa Song is one of the ProPublica reporters who helped develop the coverage.

“Our story found that 74 million Americans are exposed to risks greater than one in a million,” Song said.

All in all, ProPublica identified more than 1,000 hot spots. Five of the hot spots with the highest levels of excess risk are in Texas, and one place classified as an area of industrial cancer risk is centered around south Longview. The highest risk area was around the Eastman chemical plant - with other plants like Westlake Chemical and Joy Global contributing.

A screenshot of the ProPublica map shows the air pollution hot spot over the Longview area.
A screenshot of the ProPublica map shows the air pollution hot spot over the Longview area.(ProPublica)

“And generally what you’re seeing in these maps is the darker and the more red the square, the more carcinogenic emissions are estimated to be there and therefore the higher the estimated cancer risk,” Song said.

The hot spot area lists a population of 130,000. And while the average risk of cancer is 1 in 29,000 —66% lower than the EPA’s acceptable risk— the highest risk portion of this part of south Longview has a risk level of 1 in 140 right over the plant. That’s 72 times greater than the EPA’s acceptable risk. The most high-risk area is not populated, since it’s shown to be right over the plant. But other at-risk areas around the plant are populated and exceed the EPA’s acceptable risk.

ProPublica’s study cites the Texas Eastman site alone is estimated to increase the excess cancer risk for people living within five miles by an average of one in 8,400 - contributing about 99.6 percent of the estimated excess cancer risk in the area with the highest amount of carcinogens.

“In this area of Longview, there are going to be a few locations where you’re really close to the Eastman plant, where the estimated cancer risk is one in 140 and that is many many times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable,” Song said.

An aerial view from Chopper 7 of the Texas Eastman Chemical Plant.
An aerial view from Chopper 7 of the Texas Eastman Chemical Plant.(Blake Holland/Chopper 7)

Part of Texas Eastman’s emissions include ethylene oxide, a gas at room temperature used for sterilization and fumigation, and Chloroform used as a solvent. They also detected 1-3 butadiene, a gas used in the production of certain rubber, plastics, and thermoplastic resins. Ten other carcinogens were also listed in the ProPublica analysis of the Longview area.

According to their website, the Eastman plant was established in 1952 and makes products used in vehicle interiors, food preservatives, cosmetics, toys, paint, and personal care items.

Concerning the level of carcinogens the EPA is reporting, Eastman Chemical responded to KLTV’s request for comment with the following:

ProPublica reporters point out their map is a screening tool showing areas of potential concern. It’s not meant to be a site-specific risk assessment and cannot used to definitively link individual cancer cases to emissions from specific facilities.

“You know, the data alone from our map can’t link a particular person’s cancer to this pollution. But what our map does is it shows you the additional estimated cancer risk we will have from living in particular areas,” Song said.

At any rate, it’s the first time this level of data from the federal government has been culminated and broken down into such a revealing state.

“This is all data that the government has had on hand for many years, but they have never released it in a way that is easily accessible and usable to the public,” Song said.


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