ABIA Tank Farms

GEO371T students visited the controversial site of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) tank farms, placed just across the road from residents that have lived in their neighborhoods for generations. Residents were not informed or included in the decision to place the potentially hazardous tanks less than 500 feet away from where their children live, eat, and play. In order to understand the environmental justice implications of the farms, four important guest speakers were invited to discuss the ramifications of the ABIA’s actions.

Sergio Castellanos, professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering department, informed the class of potential hazards residents of the area could be facing – namely, air pollutants. Tank farms can present a serious threat to air quality. Dr. Castellanos emphasized the importance of air quality monitors and how increasing accessibility to them could serve to protect residents from harmful pollutants. Dr. Castellanos showed the class different types of monitors, what they detect, and what their limitations could be. Providing communities living near significant industrial developments could potentially prevent industries from flying under the radar when it comes to exceeding federal limits on pollution.

Vanessa Fuentes, Austin city council member, worked with the neighborhood to prevent the development of the tank farms in the area and urge the ABIA to relocate. Although these efforts were overturned by just one vote, Fuentes provided the class with valuable insight on how environmentally impactful decisions get made. Her insight called into question how much governments care about the people they represent.

To top this off, the class heard from Amanda Carillo, a resident whose family has lived in the area for generations. She gave an emotional account of how unheard her and her family’s voices had been in decisions that affect them and her motivations for continuing being to stand up for those in her community who cannot. Lastly, Susanna Ledesma-Woody is a member of the board of trustees for the Del Valle Community Coalition who works to improve the quality of life for underprivileged residents. Such participation in civil discussions by everyday residents is imperative for all voices to be heard, so that underprivileged communities are not taken advantage of by city governments.