Blowing Smoke

Ironically, the city itself noted last December that simply imposing distance requirements on new facilities would be inadequate to address the issue. In its "Hazardous Material Mitigation Action Plan," the task force assembled after the Pleasantville fires identified five strategies "to lessen the risk involved with these facilities in Houston."

To date, none of those strategies have been fully implemented. Since toxic fumes from chemical fires don't heed distancing restrictions, the task force's report concluded, "The location of residential areas in Houston is such that any distancing requirement would not be effective enough to limit the risks associated with a neighborhood's proximity to commercial facilities with hazardous chemicals."

But Bridgette Murray, who as president of the Pleasantville Civic League has been active on the Hazardous Materials Committee, remains optimistic. "In my mind, we've made some headway," Murray says diplomatically. She plans to hold the city to its pledge of addressing the fire code or otherwise improving the safety at existing facilities.

"We're still in the battle," Murray says.

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