Within the span of seven years, Troynell Daw lost three of the most important women in his life.
“I lost my sister back in 2003. She was just 17. My mother, she was 50, we lost her back in 2009. And my grandmother we lost in 2010,” he told America Tonight while sitting in front of his childhood home. "It messed me up completely."
All three died of cancer, and each death was a complete shock to the family. “We have a good history of high blood pressure," Daw explained, "but as far as cancer, no.”
Instead, he blames the place where he was born and raised: Port Arthur, Texas.
Most people have never heard of this small, sleepy city nestled near the edge of the Texas Gulf Coast. But if you drive about two hours east of Houston, it's hard to miss.
The city's smokestacks light up the sky like skyscrapers – marking the spot for one of the largest concentrations of oil refineries in the world. Inside the plants, hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil are converted into everything from gasoline, to asphalt, to the petrochemicals needed to make plastics.
The area has long been a hub for the petrochemical industry. Oil was first discovered in Texas at the Spindletop oil field near Port Arthur at the turn of the last century. By 1923, it was a bustling home to the largest oil refinery complex in the world, one that made Texas an economic hub.
Today, this multibillion-dollar industry helps fuel our modern way of life. But the residents who live here also say it's making them sick.
Losing loved ones
The death of his mother hit Daw the hardest.
“She went for the chemotherapy. She held strong. She fought it diligently," he explained. It was just like her: She'd always been "the life of the party" and the “glue” that held the family together.
“I have moments where every day it'll hit me or I'll catch myself missing them or whatever, and I think about it," he said. "Sometimes, I cry about it.”
Daw grew up on Port Arthur's west side, just across the fence line from the complex of eight major oil refineries and hazardous waste plants. And he's convinced the loss of his mother, grandmother and sister are a result of that.
“I feel that the losses that I took have something to do with these petro-chemical companies out here," he said.