Keystone to Keystone: The Toxic Belly of the Beast

Abby Zimet

With Keystone sparking ongoing protests and so much lobbying it's become "a full employment program for K Street"- 48 groups, all but two for, are spending skyrocketing amounts - the human, local, hard-to-breathe impact of the pending disaster can get overlooked. Welcome to the overwhelmingly poor and Latino Houston barrio of Manchester, the most polluted neighborhood in the most polluted city in the U.S., where 10 petrochemical plants spew 1.9 million pounds of pollutants a year into the sulfurous air; where smokestacks grace every backyard view and residents are chronically ill with nosebleeds, sore throats, respiratory ailments and soaring rates of leukemia; where studies have found carcinogenic and heavy metal levels so beyond accepted guidelines they would have triggered federal investigations if they were toxic dumpsites; and where, if Keystone goes forward, up to 90% of its particularly toxic tar sands crude will be processed. The kids' schools are surrounded by petrochemical plants and built on top of gas and oil pipes leading to them;  bringing her daughter there, says one mother of an already very sick son, "I feel a deep emptiness... I don't know whether I am giving her an education or a death sentence." In the belly of the beast, locals and activists are starting to fight back.


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