"On the first sunny day in Houston after about 50 inches of rain, residents in the east Houston community of Manchester emerged from their homes and gave thanks that their neighborhood had been spared in the floods. "Mama, yeah, I just feel blessed," said 73-year-old Maria Julia Rodriguez, standing in her driveway in late August and marveling at her luck. "God was looking out for us, I guess."
And yet, something was wrong. The air was heavy with the smell of gasoline and other harder-to-place odors. The neighborhood is ringed by industrial sites, the biggest of which is the Valero oil refinery, separated by fences from backyards and playgrounds. A lot of people in the neighborhood have lived there for decades, and say they're used to strange smells. Asked about a sickly sweet odor, Rodriguez said "that's how it always is here."
But at least one person was alarmed by what they smelled. They called Houston's 311 hotline to report it, the city health department was alerted and about 24 hours later an air monitor measured a concentration of benzene so high that the CDC recommends workers exposed to that level of the chemical wear breathing protection. Benzene exposure can cause headaches and nausea. Long-term exposure increases the risk of cancer."