Report says plumes of carcinogenic formaldehyde found in neighborhoods along Houston's ship channel

The Houston Health Department says a new study found plumes of carcinogenic formaldehyde in neighborhoods along Houston's ship channel.  

Mayor Turner says its leaving many families of color that live there at a higher risk for cancer..


The Houston Health Department and other environmental groups say not only did they study find formaldehyde levels exceeding some EPA standards, it reveals 90% of the formaldehyde they detected in the air the nearby neighborhoods of Galena Park, Cloverleaf, and Channelview is the result of other emissions combining.

"My daughter was born with cancer. She went through chemo," said 40-year Galena Park resident Juan Flores.

Flores says he and his neighbors in Galena Park worry a lot about cancer.

"People will say one person has cancer, I have cancer, my husband just died of it," said Flores.

They worry, he says, because they smell chemicals in the air, living close to several oil refineries and petro chemical plants.

"You can smell the chemicals. I'm really concerned about it," said Flores.

"The communities that are really being exposed to these concentrations are people of color and low income communities," said Loren Hopkins, Chief Environmental Science Officer with the Houston Health Department.

The Houston Health Department reports that air pollution monitoring in 2019 and 2020 recorded levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in Galena Park, Cloverleaf, and Channelview that exceeded the EPA's health screening level of 0.17 parts per billion, increasing the risk for cancer.


The report, "Formaldehyde Air Pollution in Houston," by the One Breath Partnership was performed in collaboration with the Houston Health Department and funded by the EPA.  The partnership includes Environmental Integrity Project, Air Alliance Houston, and other groups working to reduce air pollution in the Houston region.  

"The formaldehyde level in Cloverleaf is 13 times higher than the effects screening level this comes from," said Hopkins.  

The group is calling on the EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to strengthen air pollution regulations.

"We do need the state to crack down on these air pollutants like ethylene and propylene that combine in the atmosphere to create formaldehyde," said Tom Pelton with the Environmental Integrity Project.

Changes Flores believes could help to keep his family and neighbors safe.

"Now to know that chemical is mixing in with the other ones is very concerning. That chemical causes cancer, for the exposure you get to it, it's very concerning," said Flores.

We reached out to some of the companies named in the report for comment, but haven't heard back yet.