Maritza and Laritza are twins but on the days when the air pollution in their Pasadena neighborhood is bad, it's particularly hard on Laritza. She's one of the many children in the area with asthma. It's part of the reason why her family is seated in the hall at St. Peter's Episcopal Church along with some 70 other area residents Sunday to hear the results of Air Alliance Houston's health and safety survey.
The forthcoming survey conducted in 2017, gathered responses from more than 1,000 residents about everything from sidewalk conditions to personal health perceptions. Focusing on several north Pasadena neighborhoods near highway 225 and the Ship Channel, the survey found significant health burdens, including during Hurricane Harvey. Roughly half of respondents said they noticed funny or odd smells during the storm. Similarly, 48 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about their health due to mold and indoor pollution related to the storm.
But the results also pointed to underlying health concerns, including elevated asthma and cancer rates, according to the self reported assessments.
Roughly half of respondents rated their own health in the last year as poor or fair and 66 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about the air pollution from the area's refineries and chemical plants. More than half of respondents said they had a child with asthma and roughly a quarter of adults reported having asthma, well above the countywide level, according to Harris County Public Health. The Houston area ranked 11th among the most polluted cities in the country, according to the American Lung Association, which gave Harris County an F grade for its ozone and C for its particulate matter. Eleven percent of respondents said their child had been diagnosed with cancer.
The survey also documented the area's mobility challenges, including too few or broken sidewalks, a lack of public transit and safety concerns. Roughly half of respondents said their neighborhood did not have enough sidewalks or trails to walk or bike.
"It all connects," said Paula Torrado, community outreach manager for Air Alliance Houston. "If we think about the Ship Channel and its proximity to a major highway, not only do we have problems coming from fossil fuel production but also from traffic," like the ozone days that exacerbate asthma.
The survey also documented broad support for a citywide anti-idling ordinance that the alliance has advocated for. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they would support such an ordinance.
It's the first time Lartiza and her sister have been involved in something like this, but they're hopeful for change. Last week, asthma kept Laritza home from school. "We smell a lot of air pollution," said Maritza. And on the days when it smells real bad, said Laritza, "it's harder to breath."