San Antonio area has hot spot of cancer-causing air, according to ProPublica analysis

Map shows more than 1,000 ‘toxic hot spots’ around the country

SAN ANTONIO – There are more than 1,000 hot spots with toxic air pollution across the country, and one of them is in San Antonio, according to a ProPublica analysis.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit news organization took five years of data from the Environmental Protection Agency and modeled it into a map.

“(The EPA) has never released this data in a way that allows the public to understand the risks of breathing the air where they live,” according to the report. “Using the reports submitted between 2014 and 2018, we calculated the estimated excess cancer risk from industrial sources across the entire country and mapped it all.”

The agency deems a cancer risk of 1 in 10,000 acceptable, meaning that the air pollution would likely cause one additional case of cancer among 10,000 people living in that area with lifelong exposure to the pollutants. The ProPublica map went further, identifying spots where the additional cancer risk is more than 1 in 100,000. Though it is lower than the EPA threshold, experts say those areas still cause concern, according to the report.

San Antonio’s hot spot comes on the city’s South Side around Calumet San Antonio Refining LLC at 7811 S. Presa St., where a crude oil terminal is located. The refinery was sold to Starlight Relativity Acquisition Company LLC in November 2019. In the beginning of 2021, Allegiance Refining took over operations of the refinery.

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran represents the district where the refinery is located.

“When this news came, I was not surprised,” Viagran said. “I was extremely disappointed, but environmental factors are key in terms of health inequities so, it’s definitely a cause for concern.”

Viagran said her office works with residents who have expressed concerns about the refinery. The approach is usually focused on health care services.

“There are free services out there (for people),” Viagran said. “Metro Health (can) help, and we want to make sure that (people are) feeling their best. We want (people) not to be afraid of doctors and get cancer screenings, which are extremely important (in this case).”

When it comes to actual change, Viagran said local government can only do so much.

“We do put in requests for information, but now it’s the state’s opportunity to go in there and see how we can reduce what’s coming out (the refinery),” Viagran said. “We really need to address it and work with our partner agencies at the State and the county (level including) the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

According to the analysis, that area has posed an average risk of 1 in 51,000, 80% lower than the EPA’s acceptable risk levels. Roughly 126 people are estimated to live in that area, according to the analysis.

In a statement to KSAT 12, the company Allegiance Refining said in part, “(Our) top priority is the health and safety of our employees and community. Since taking over as the new operator of The San Antonio Refinery at the beginning of 2021, Allegiance Refining has focused on investing in opportunities that improve the refinery’s environmental stewardship. Significant capital investments have been made to replace, repair, and add new process equipment and additional monitoring to improve reliability and reduce overall emissions at the refinery. We remain committed to being a good neighbor and steward of the environment.”

Other refineries in the San Antonio area include Arvin Sango, a steel manufacturer on the South Side, and the Lubrizol Corporation, a chemicals company refinery in Elmendorf.

Arvin Sango’s average risk was measured to be 1 in 24,0000, 58% lower than the EPA’s acceptable risk level. Lubrizol Corporation’s average cancer risk was at 1 in 87,000, 89% lower than the EPA’s acceptable risk level.

In general, the San Antonio area still fares much better than other Texas cities where there are more refineries.

Major hot spots in Texas include Port Arthur, Port Lavaca, Longview, Houston and Laredo.

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About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.