The Cancer Belt

People around Port Neches like to say that the odor from the chemical plants nearby is the smell of money. But it could also be the smell of death.

Before he got sick, Carlos Dwight Stokes liked to hunt rabbits. He would usually go hunting at night, after supper, when the open fields near his neighborhood in Port Neches were covered with darkness and dew. Wearing faded blue jeans and carrying a bow and arrow, Carlos looked like the kind of teenager who knew how to take care of himself. He was broad-shouldered and big-boned. He stood an inch over six feet tall and weighed a good 215 pounds. He had blond hair and what his mother later described as “blue-blue” eyes. He was, as his father says, “strong as a mule.”

The fields where Carlos used to hunt lay between his parents’ house and the petrochemical plants. In darkness as in light the plants dominated the low, marshy landscape of Port Neches (population: 13,000) like skyscrapers looming over a city’s streets. In fact, when first seen at night and from a distance with their bright strings of lights arcing from distillation tower to distillation tower like suspension bridges, the plants seemed to be whole cities unto themselves. Up close they were even more awesome-living steel monsters belching forth smoke, fire and tumes.

Of course, Carlos Stokes and most of his Port Neches neighbors took the petrochemical plants for granted. The plants were neither fearsome

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