Wednesday, March 14 at 7:30 pm
Shelter in Place
by Zed Nelson
It is the vast, sprawling complexes of oil refineries and petrochemical plants that help make the Texan economy one of the largest in the world. But does the wealth come at too high a price to local residents? This alarming film is an intimate portrait of a community battling not only the health effects of environmental pollution, but the corporate powers that deny their responsibility. As the refineries release millions of tons of toxins into the air each year, the townspeople, typically poor and powerless to protest, are periodically advised to “shelter in place” — stay home, shut off all ventilation systems, and tape up their windows and doors.
The community portrayed in this shocking documentary are the Port Arthur, Texas, communities that live in the polluted dark shadow of the Texan petro-chemical industry and are therefore all too familiar with sheltering in place. Zed Nelson documents the industry emissions and the social conditions that are a direct result of the political and big business priorities of a wealthy, fervently pro-industry Republican state. Oil refineries and petro-chemical plants help make the Texan economy one of the richest in the country. Every year Texas industry is permitted by law to emit millions of tons of toxic pollutants into the air including benzene, butadiene, hydrogen sulphide, and nitrogen oxide. Texas refineries are also allowed by law to release thousands of tons of additional toxic pollutants in “upsets” or unscheduled emissions every year — and there can be over 13,000 of these purportedly “unusual” instances.
The petro-chemical industries treat the residents of Port Arthur as if they are expendable, occasionally granting them small payoffs of a couple hundred bucks so they will not file future health claims against the petro-chemical plants. The residents are almost all African-American. They are all poor and under-educated. They do not have any political influence. They have no means to fight the Goliath Texas refineries. Nevertheless, they are battling against environmental pollution and the evil Behemoth of corporate power. They need those small paychecks to survive; if they had more money, they would probably move away. If you have ever smelled Port Arthur (especially during the summertime) you would never choose to live there. There is a reason why some people refer to this region as the armpit of Texas — it is unbearably hot, humid, and rank. Zed Nelson allows the Port Arthur residents ample time to ruminate about their experiences living under the cloud of the refineries.
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