Taking on Gulf Chemical in Freeport

Three months ago, Melanie Oldham moved from Angleton to a tiny old home in downtown Freeport, a southeast Texas town that lies in the shadows of petrochemical plants. She began filling a spare room with posters, photos, newspaper clippings, reports and books about one of the town’s most notorious polluters, Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation—a reading room for the community. Her home’s proximity to the company, and to other plants like Dow Chemical’s massive campus, also allows her to claim legal status in challenging the plant’s permits.

Not that many years ago, Oldham enjoyed a life of relative luxury. She was married to a Dow chemical engineer and lived in a spacious home. Now she works as a physical therapist, making enough money to support her real passion: trying to force Freeport’s chemical companies and refineries to clean up.

“They’ve sacrificed Freeport, Texas, for the sake of making money,” she says. “They’ve sacrificed the people’s health, their lives.”

In 2006 she created Citizens for Clean Air & Clean Water in Brazoria County, and has spent the years since educating the community on the links between industrial pollution and public health.

Working with a handful of locals, she has made Gulf Chemical her main target, a company so brazen in its disregard for environmental laws and the surrounding community that even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has cracked down on it. In 2010, Gulf pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of illegally discharging toxic wastewater into the Brazos River. The plant’s pollution-control devices, inspectors found, were literally held together with duct tape (see “Heavy Metal,” August 2012).

Oldham and others in the community have pressured local and state officials to take action, and the company has promised to install scrubbers and real-time pollution monitors on its stacks by the end of the year. … FULL STORY