This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center. It is being co-published with Public Health Watch and the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
Hannah Molina was buckling her toddlers into their car seats for Wednesday night church when she noticed the faint chemical odor.
She felt a little lightheaded, but she didn’t think much about it.
The air is often stinky in Jacinto City, Texas, a small town 15 minutes east of downtown Houston that’s surrounded by oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Usually, the odors are fleeting. Enough to make Molina’s nose wrinkle, but not enough to trigger her asthma or keep the girls from playing outside.
That night — July 14, 2021 — turned out to be different.
By the time Molina got home at 9 p.m., a nauseating, garlic-like stench had settled over her neighborhood. When she opened her car door, she felt dizzy. She swallowed hard to avoid gagging.
Molina got the girls out of the car, grabbed the groceries she’d picked up at Walmart and stumbled into the little house she and her husband rent. She drew a deep breath, desperate for clean air. But the odor was inside, too.
The noxi... Read more