Reviewing a decade of death statistics revealed a 16% increase in mortality risk on the first day of haze and a 27% increase on the second day compared to better air days.

If the haze was accompanied by high ozone pollution, the risk of death increased by 79%.

As shocking as this sounds, it aligns with other recent studies that have found a connection between short-term increases in air pollution and aberrant mental behavior. Significantly higher rates of Autism, Parkinson’s, ADHD and juvenile delinquency have all been linked to PM pollution, most at ambient levels assumed by regulators to be “safe.”

PM pollution has even been linked to low stock market performance in more than one study.

Researchers believe air pollution affects a person’s emotional state, making them more likely to feel depressed. They urge mental health professionals to be aware that bad air days are triggers for acute episodes.

PM pollution is so microscopically tiny it not only goes deep into your lungs, it actually can pass through your lung lining directly into your blood stream. Think about the places where your body uses a lot of blood – your heart and your brain. We’ve known PM causes heart attacks and strikes for some time. But research linking it to a wide variety of brain disorders is only fairly recent.

Authored by faculty at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, this most recent study examined more than 284,000 deaths, including those among people with mental and behavioral disorders including depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and dementia. It defined “haze days” as those on which pollutants gather in the air and cut visibility, usually dry days with low winds. In the study period from 2007 to 2014, there were 111 haze days when particle pollution was on average twice as high.

These findings are compatible with a recent Belgian study, which reported “[Short-term] increases in outdoor air pollutants such as particles or ozone can trigger suicide, particularly during warm periods, even at concentrations below the European thresholds.”

Unfortunately, we may have a local way to further prove this hypothesis. On October 19th of last year there was a still unexplained catastrophic air event that caused PM levels to go much more than twice a high as “normal,” accompanied by an increase in ozone pollution so severe it bumped the entire regional average by a part per billion. Could an examination of death certificates in Ellis, Dallas, Tarrant and Denton Counties reveal if this really “bad air day” caused a spike in North Texas suicides?

 

Downwinders at Risk’s “No Safe Level”  PM Pollution Campaign Committee has scheduled its next meeting for Saturday March 10th at the Meadows Center at 2900 Live Oak. 

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And BuzziUnicemUSA wants the City’s permission to build a new 170-foot tall silo to store it in

 

Just when you thought you had a handle on the environmental hazards plaguing West Dallas, up pops another out of left field.

Lead, sure. Asbestos, check. Benzene too. Arsenic, yes.

But you might not expect rail cars and silos full of finely-grained toxic cement – cement made by burning hazardous waste as “fuel” in a cement plant. Cement that still has the residues of that hazardous waste inside it. Residues like lead, and arsenic and Dioxins – the stuff in Agent Orange.That was one of the unpleasant surprises during a February 1st on-site meeting between neighborhood activists and the folks who own and operate the Buzzi cement terminal on Lone Star Drive between Commerce and Singleton to discuss the construction of a huge new silo at the facility.

BuzziUnicemUSA is a a huge Italian-based multinational. In the US, the Company operates 7 cement manufacturing plants and 29 other distribution terminals in the United States besides the one in West Dallas.

On February 22nd, Buzzi is scheduled to come before the City of Dallas Board of Adjustment seeking a “height variance” that would allow it to build the new silo 17 stories tall – 60 feet further up than they can go now with current zoning restrictions.

With the exception of the abandoned but still-standing 1920’s garbage incinerator smokestack just a couple of blocks away on West Commerce, it would be the tallest structure in West Dallas.

The idea of yet another industrial eyesore in a neighborhood that has battled for over a century with such things was not well-received by the delegation of neighborhood residents. Nor was the news that the company didn’t have a Plan B for addressing their concerns.

But perhaps most surprising was the news that the company was importing cement from its hazardous waste burning kilns in Missouri and off-loading it in Dallas to be used in the construction boom here.

To know how offensive that might strike residents and local environmentalists, you have to know history. Lots and lots of history.

The Trinity Portland Cement Plant in West Dallas          1906-1984, Dallas Public Library

West Dallas was founded in part when a group of Galveston investors established the Trinity Portland Cement Company in 1906 and imported an entire Mexican village to build and run their cement kiln.

“Cement City” was established a couple of miles west of the then-Dallas city limits, and existed on the books up into the 1960’s. This was part of the White Establishment pattern of keeping those deemed “undesirable” – polluters and people – segregated from Dallas proper. Many West Dallas families can trace their beginnings in this country to these first cement plant workers.

Even after a growing Dallas swallowed Cement City, the West Dallas cement plant remained. In 1984, its owners announced plans to begin burning hazardous waste instead of oil or gas as a “fuel” for making its product.

But 1984 happened to be the year West Dallas residents’ fight against wholesale lead contamination from the RSR smelter was reaching its climax. They were forcing a complete closure (a complete clean-up would take much longer), and were in no mood to battle another source of toxic pollution.

At that time, the community was represented in Congress by U.S. Representative Martin Frost, a mid-cities Democrat. He was able to draft and successfully pass what became known as “The Frost Amendment” which prohibited the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns located in any U.S. city with 500,000 or more residents. Welding the law’s language as carefully as a surgeon’s knife, Dallas was the only city affected.

Without the prospect of becoming a hazardous waste incinerator and being able to charge for waste “fuel” instead of having to pay for gas or coal, the West Dallas cement plant closed shortly after Frost’s amendment was passed.

Two years later the idea would surface again in near-by Midlothian, the self-proclaimed “Cement Capitol of Texas” with three cement plants and only three thousand residents. This is Downwinders at Risk creation story. We’re here because of those Midlothian waste-burning cement plants and the multi-decade campaign citizens fought to end it.

Part of that ending was the successful  “Green Cement Campaign” which persuaded local governments to quit buying and using the cement from the dirtier waste-burners in favor of those cement plants using conventional fuels. Dallas was the first of a dozen cities and counties to pass a Green Cement procurement ordinance. Fort Worth, Plano, and Arlington passed similar ordinances. They were the reason why TXI decided to stop burning hazardous waste in 2008. For the first time in over 20 years, no toxic cement was being made or used in North Texas. Most locals probably thought they would never have to deal with the subject again.

Which makes the news of Buzzi’s importing of cement from Missouri waste-burning kilns very disappointing indeed. Apparently the company is shipping tons and tons of the stuff into Dallas for Ready-Mix to use in a host of construction projects, including many in Frisco. It’s quite possible the the new Cowboys facility there is being built with cement containing the residues of hazardous wastes, including lead.

The RSR lead smelter in Dallas, 1981

And that’s problematic because much like West Dallas, Frisco has had a long toxic dance with lead. The ancient and dilapidated Exide lead smelter was shut down in 2012 because it was violating lead air pollution standards. It’s not operating now, but the land the smelter owned is still severely contaminated and at the center of a bitter legal battle between the City and Exide. How ironic is it for Frisco to have recently rid itself of a lead smelter only to have lead waste imported into the city and disposed of under the guise of cement?

How ironic to have Dallas and Plano help stop the manufacture and use of local toxic cement, only to provide a commercial market for Missouri’s?

And for West Dallas to get rid of one of the its first environmental injustices, stop the original waste-burning wanna-be in its tracks, and still find itself a major depot for toxic cement?

Residents who want to see West Dallas continue to overcome and redress its racist past should be at the Board of Adjustment hearing at City Hall on the 22nd. Call Trena  Law @ (214)670-4206 to get details about time and speaking opportunities. Stay tuned. 

 

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Public Health
Economic Development
Transportation
Housing
Childhood Development and Education
Environmental Justice
Crime

__________

In the same way lead exposure was linked to lower IQ in children and anti-social behavior like crime, PM Pollution is now being linked to learning disabilities and juvenile delinquency.

And in the same way public health mandated the removal of lead from gasoline and paint, many public policy measures are needed to help eliminate PM pollution exposure.

Many if not most of these are local in nature. They don’t need EPA or TCEQ approval.
__________

In California, buffer zones between new homes and freeways are under consideration because so many studies have shown children living next to freeways suffer significantly higher rates of Autism and learning disabilities.

Some local governments, school districts, and public transit agencies, including DART are beginning to electrify their bus fleets to reduce exposure to PM pollution and save money. “No idling zones” around schools and are being enlarged.

In DFW, Downwinders is sponsoring a broad public health initiative aimed at identifying and reducing PM Pollution from all sources, called “No Safe Level.”

Just as PM pollution poses all kinds of adverse health effects it also provides lots of opportunities at the local level to make things better for your neighbors:

Safer homes and schools.
More sustainable public transit.
More equitable zoning.
Pollution controls.
Public Health protections in the neighborhoods that need them most.

We can make progress. But we need your help.


 “NO SAFE LEVEL” 
   Particulate Matter   

CAMPAIGN  MEETING

     SATURDAY, JANUARY 27th     
2 – 4 PM
Hill Country Room
Meadows Conference Center
2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas

Get the Basics on PM
Help Pick Campaign Targets and Create Strategies for Change

Your Hosts, Our No Safe Level Committee members:
Cresanda Allen
Shannon Gribble
Amanda Poland
Evelyn Mayo
Misti O’Quinn

 

 

 

FOLLOW-UP: West Dallas residents won their fight to close the RamCrete batch plant at the January 10th Dallas City Council meeting. The vote was 14-1 with Council Member Rickey Callahan the lone outlier.  However, The City’s Office of Environmental Quality didn’t distinguish itself when a spokesperson reassured Callahan that any facility meeting TCEQ standard exemption permit levels of pollution “could not be causing a problem.”

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Q: What caused PM and Ozone pollution to spike so high and fast on Oct 19th that health alerts had to be issued from Dallas to Denton?

A: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality couldn’t care less.

That’s the take-away from Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe’s story that appeared over the weekend in the Denton Record Chronicle.

You may remember we reported on the mystery shortly after it happened and tracked down all the local and non-local suspects cited by officials in the media that day. None of them turned out to be the cause of an air pollution incident that was so potent it raised the entire regional ozone average a whole part per billion and forced PM levels into the triple digits.

Heinkel-Wolfe goes one step further and makes inquires from the TCEQ itself. And the run around she gets is Catch-22 material.

TCEQ says they can’t investigate an air pollution problem unless there’s a known cause. But if there’s a known cause, what you’ve got there really isn’t an investigation any more, it’s an enforcement action, isn’t it?

This article may be the single most compelling case for why DFW needs its own locally-controlled air quality monitoring network. Find it here.

Q: Where are the results of the air samples the Dallas Fire Department supposedly took when a West Dallas Recycling was sending large plumes of black smoke over the surrounding and downwind neighborhoods on December 11th?

A: Nobody seems to know.

A huge pile of metal scrap burned and smoldered for over 24 hours at Sunshine Recycling on Ruder Street in West Dallas on December 11th. Thick plumes of smoke streaked the sky for half a day and into the night.

According to WFAA-TV, a Fire Department Hazardous Materials response team was on site because there were hazardous materials on site – although exactly what those were, or are, remain nameless.

That evening the Dallas City Councilman who represents West Dallas, Omar Narvaez, posted on his FaceBook page that “The Fire Dept has conducted testing and there is no hazardous materials burning.”

Really? Because when a scrap yard like that catches fire, you can bet there’s “hazardous materials” burning whether it’s officially noted or not. Plastic tubing and hoses become Dioxin-generating embers. Used oil has all kinds of metals in it that attach themselves to the smoke particles. Vinyl can generate very toxic fumes. Just the PM pollution from the smoke alone was enough to trigger all kinds of harmful health impacts. Very likely the entire pile of metal waste that was burning that night was indeed “hazardous.”

But OK, you say you took tests and they showed nothing out of the ordinary? Let’s see them. In December Downwinders submitted a Texas Open Records Act request to the City of Dallas for the results of those tests. We’re still waiting. As of today, and despite three phone calls to the Open Records Division of the City Secretary’s office, we still don’t have what it’s supposed to take no more than 10 business days to get. It’s been a month and counting. We’re trying to get some legal help to extract the information. Stay tuned.

For $500 a piece, we can install a dense grid of PM monitors across the region, tie them all together and present the information to the public in a transparent accessible way. It can be locally-controlled, directed by scientists, and independent of political influence.

It would automatically track plumes in real time, not an hour ago. It would give you reliable and specific levels of pollution rather than vague reassurances. It would transfer the power from officialdom to citizenry.

That’s the new Network we’re building. Stay tuned.

 

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Thanks Governor: An MLK Day Special Posting

by jim on January 15, 2018

It was a night that might’ve even made atheists Believe.

Answering the impromptu call to action, the weary had come to sit in the pews at the community church. At issue this time was the appearance of their white Governor cynically using elements of the local minority establishment to deflect attention from his racist record. He was coming in three days. Something must be done.

There was the United Front of black clergy in dark suits, the surprisingly feisty local NAACP leadership, the Young Turks, Latino union sympathizers, and white supporters, all making their own personal calculations about bail money and jobs and what lines would be crossed for what reasons when the protest happened.

Only the details of the arrest protocol were yet to be determined in last-minute negotiations with the city and Police Department. Girding themselves, the evening was a gathering of determined souls who seemed to need each other’s company at least as much as they needed legal aid. There was going to be some preaching, some singing, and some praying. Lots of praying.

Inside, the gathering was stalwart and righteous. Outside, howling winds were nature’s metaphor for the political storm created by the decision to confront. It had not only angered the usual suspects but split the black community as well. Some black groups and elected officials, as well as a host of murkey-motivated whites (and of course the local daily paper) didn’t see anything wrong at all with the Governor’s visit. This made tonight’s meeting all that more controversial and conspiratorial-like. They were all out on a wind-battered limb.

But just as schedules were being cleared and cash collected, there was a trickle of whispers. Whispers that made people quietly exalt “Hallelujah.” Whispers that lifted the psychic load from faces like sandbags being thrown off a hot air balloon. Whispers full of the Good News.

Finally the words were uttered out loud from the pulpit. There would be no protest because there would be nothing to protest. The governor was not coming. Fearing the possible negative publicity of a major civil rights demonstration in their town, local officials had found a blunt if face-saving way to avoid the confrontation. They had canceled the entire event. Applause and louder Hallelujahs” and “Amens” filled the Sanctuary. The Governor’s office had no comment. Outside the sun came out at dusk.

If you squinted, you could almost see it in grainy black and white.

But it was 2018.

And it wasn’t Montgomery or Jackson. It was Arlington.

For one shining moment last week a part of the local civil rights movement found the intestinal fortitude to save the legacy of the entire civil rights movement. In doing so it illuminated the reason why all of us need a deeper appreciation of that legacy.

When a new MLK Day parade for Arlington was announced with Texas Governor Greg Abbott as its honorary Grand Marshal shortly after New Year’s, the producers unleashed many of the same debates and quarrels stirred-up by almost every protest King was ever in.

The plaque that STILL hangs on the Texas State capitol wall and that Gov. Abbott STILL refuses to recommend removing

In raising King to secular Sainthood, people forget how controversial he was and still should be. We forget how many times he was called a Communist or a dupe of the Communists by mainstream commentators and government officials. At the very least he was said to be “misguided” and “impatient.” We forget the FBI secretly tried to sabotage his work and family. Many of us don’t know or remember his house being bombed while he and his family slept in it. We forget how many times he went to jail to make a small but important point or spotlight a local campaign. We forget how many black and white clergy warned against him and his brand of radical Christianity.

We also forget King was about confrontation as much as reconciliation. The White Establishment would not reconcile themselves to black equality under the law until they were forced to confront the impacts to their communities up close and personal. Non violent direct action was an effective tool to get whites to the table and begin to win concessions and change the system. Reconciliation came only after negotiations as equals took place and progress toward equality was produced. Sometimes that meant integrating interstate transportation. Sometimes it meant hiring more black clerks at downtown department stores. But it always meant some progress was achieved, the system was changed somehow.

Those who didn’t see any problem with Governor Abbott heading up an MLK parade throw away half of King’s approach and go right to an unrequited act of reconciliation without any meaningful or even symbolic concessions from a man who’s made a career out of singling out The Other.

For them, entry to MLK’s legacy is free of charge to the Governor just because of his title. He doesn’t have to earn his way there. He doesn’t have to concede a policy. He doesn’t even have to express remorse or even request a reconciliation. It showed up in his driveway unannounced in a Camry.

That was too cheap a price for those in the church and their supporters. They argued even MLK would have at least made Governor Abbott remove the pro-slavery “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque on the state capitol wall before allowing to ride unencumbered in a parade saluting human rights.

One of the most inane comments about the whole affair came from the Governor’s press secretary who regretted that the MLK Day parade her boss, the Governor of Texas up for reelection this year, was riding in was now being “politicized.” Yes, the Morning News tsked tsked in its own circa-1964 way, how unfortunate it was to see an event honoring a leader who was assassinated for his political beliefs devolve into something so unseemly as politics.

Arlington NAACP President Lisa Simmons. Rev. Kennedy Jones is the first from the left.

Rev. Kennedy Jones didn’t agree. He’s the pastor of the Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church in Arlington, Thursday night’s ground zero for the anti-Abbott forces. He was born in Lowndes County, Alabama, known during King’s lifetime as “Bloody Lowndes” for its white residents’ violent resistance to integration. His father marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and he watched from his shoulders when King finally made it to Montgomery. Is it political when you get beaten or killed because you want to vote?

To Rev. Jones, and his father before him, and his father before that, it was. And nothing since those bloody days has convinced him there’s any daylight between politics and civil rights progress. Inviting someone to be Grand Marshal of a King parade who brags about Voter ID laws with the goal of disenfranchising black and brown people was rubbing salt in those wounds. Nobody asked, but if there are 2019 MLK parades looking for Grand Marshals, Rev Jones would be a heck of a good one.

Taking a stand with him was the Arlington NAACP chapter he belonged to, which is another hero of this showdown. It was their prior relationship with the City, as well as their status as community leaders that made the threat of protest credible and serious. If the oldest civil rights group in town had not stepped up and said “not in our name” the rest of the protesters would have likely floundered. The Fort Worth NAACP had no comment on Abbott’s parade ride. The Dallas NAACP had no comment. And King’s own group, the Southern Christian Leadership Council, was planning on marching in the parade with the Governor, not marching against it.

Let’s face it, in North Texas you’re just not used to seeing the NAACP get out in front of a controversy like this.  Doing so took a lot of gumption, personified by Arlington NAACP president Alisa Simmons who used every ounce of her professional PR skills to deliver a dignified but forceful reaction to the parade cancellation. Pressure on the group to fold must have grown to hypertension levels. But it never backed down. It was another little group that did.

There have been recent local “resist” protests that attracted more people and were better organized but maybe not as effective in so short amount of time. Nor quite as vaguely reminiscent of the old liberal alliance that powered so many reforms in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. It’s not an overstatement to observe that last week the DFW civil rights movement had a spontaneous and genuine revival so heartfelt it kept an incumbent Governor from committing an act of civic desecration he desperately wanted to commit in friendly “red” Tarrant County. That’s effective resistance. And its lessons gave us one of the most educational and memorable MLK weeks ever.

Chances are Abbott will never be asked to ride in another MLK parade and the producers of this one will not be showing up in Arlington with another scheme. But if there was any question as to the response from those assembled in the church, it was answered by the closing Hymm. One picked by Rev. Jones himself.

Enjoy the marches. By all means attend the demonstrations. But you’ll be hard pressed to beat the spine-tingling, swear-you-can see-it force field generated by a group of successful true believers holding hands in a black church defiantly singing “Go and tell the Governor: we shall not be moved.”

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Downwinders at Risk is proud to announce we received a very generous $40,000 grant from the Dallas-based Simmons Sisters Fund in December to cover the costs of our “No Safe Level” PM pollution protection campaign for the next two years.

This money will be going to buy both portable and stationary PM pollution monitors, educational and outreach materials, including videos, websites and social media campaigns, new studies we need to advance the cause, and a host of other things we would not have even thought possible before the arrival of this grant. We can’t tell you how excited we are to have this kind of budget. We can really start to make a difference right out of the gate.

But we still need you. We need you to show-up at our monthly meetings and learn how you can plug into this campaign, which has the potential to reshape public policy in so many ways. We need you to invite us to your PTA, club, or church gatherings to present the information about PM that makes every audience gasp. And yes, we still need your donations – to pay for salaries of our one and half staffers, other projects, and special events like our Root and Branch Conference.

We just got a huge vote of confidence in our new campaign from the Simmons Sister Fund. Please consider giving your own as well. Thanks.

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The first study to look at the effects of PM pollution exposure on the social behavior of children found that that the more bad air a child inhaled, the more likely they were to engage in delinquent activity.

Published in December’s Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology by researchers at UCLA, UC Irvine, and Orebro University in Sweden, Longitudinal Analysis of Particulate Air Pollutants and Adolescent Delinquent Behavior in Southern California” is already a landmark study in the growing field of PM research. It further demonstrates the similarities between PM and the handful of other neurotoxins linked to delinquency – like lead.

While past studies have identified a range of neurological impacts associated with PM pollution, including Autism and Parkinson’s Disease, this is the first time it’s been linked specifically to anti-social behavior. According to the authors, cumulative exposures were found to result in developmental differences lagging as many as 3 to 4 years behind the norm.

Not surprisingly, African-American boys, and children who lived in neighborhoods with poorer air quality and less green space had both higher PM exposure levels and higher delinquency rates.

This is only the latest reason why Downwinders at Risk has identified PM as Air Pollution Enemy #1. There’s not another pollutant that’s been linked to so many different health harms – from lung cancer to strokes and heart attacks, to immune and reproductive system damage to a host of brain illnesses both profound and subtle.

All of these harms are caused by “normal” levels of exposure to PM. And that’s why that exposure level must come down.

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The RamCrete Batch Plant at the corner of Marilla and Commerce in West Dallas has been so poorly run that last fall the Dallas City Planning Commission took the unusual step of overruling staff recommendations and voted to close the facility down: lock, stock and particulate matter. 

RamCrete’s operators are appealing that shut-down decision to the full council Wednesday. Action was postponed from December based on a request from the company.

Historically, West Dallas has been used as a dumping ground for both industries and people the Dallas establishment didn’t want in their own backyards. Obsolete zoning allows all kinds of industrial activity to be sited too close to residential areas.

This specific batch plant is only a symptom of that zoning, but it presents a clear and present danger to West Dallas residents that can be stopped with this vote.

Downwinders at Risk’s “No Safe Level”  Campaign to reduce Particulate Matter exposure has identified this council vote as an important first step in decreasing the emissions of PM in this neighborhood and West Dallas as a whole.

The public hearing on this permit denial is #51 on Items for Individual Consideration on the Council’s Wednesday’s agenda.  Citizens will have 3 minutes or less to speak in favor of or against upholding the Planning Commission’s decision to yank the permit.

We’re sorry we can’t give you an exact time this will come up, but City Hall veterans know these things are unpredictable. You pretty much have to show up at 9 am and stay until they get to it.

If you can, please come join us for the first PM battle – and we hope victory – of 2018.

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By all rights, there shouldn’t be a Downwinders at Risk around anymore.

The life expectancy of a local grassroots group rising up to fight a bad permit is a couple of years if you’re lucky, twice that if you’re extremely lucky.

We’re beginning our 23rd year. Throughout that time, we’ve ridden our share of organizational roller coasters and still managed to disembark with our group intact.

When we lost our hazardous waste permit fight with TXI in 1999. When we fought our Green Cement battles. When we debated taking on lead smelters and gas drilling in addition to cement kilns. Those were tough times.

But this year was among the most disheartening and frustrating… and hopeful and exhilarating. On Inauguration Day, the program work of the last five years centering on DFW smog evaporated with the installation of a hostile EPA. We then lost 50% of our board between January and July through moves, illness, and exhaustion. We weren’t sure we were going to make it to the end of this ride.

But then things started to happen.

15 brave souls signed-up for an inauguration of our own as we began the College of Constructive Hell-Raising as an experiment in cross-movement, cross culture networking. By May’s graduation, there was a consensus it was a successful one and we recruited at least one board member from its alumni.

Our “Science and Socializing” events in June attracted new blood, including young scientists and researchers that wanted to help with 21st Century high-tech air quality monitoring.

We conceived a new campaign centered on Particulate Matter pollution, a pervasive and potent toxin linked to everything from early death to learning disabilities. A toxin we can reduce exposure to without the permission of the EPA or State of Texas. We believe this effort will take us places no DFW environmental group has ever gone before: highway and urban planning, transit and housing policy, as well as the familiar ground of environmental racism and citizen empowerment.

And we’re back to close-to-full board strength, with most of our new members a generation or two younger than the board members they replaced. Twenty somethings are almost in the majority now. We have a board member who was born the same year we were.

In short, Downwinders at Risk as reinvented itself…again.

There’s no better proof of that than what was going on a couple of weekends ago.

In Dallas, the newest members of our board were running the first meeting of our “No Safe Level” Particulate Matter campaign – without Director Jim Schermbeck anywhere in sight.

Meanwhile, in Austin, Associate Program Director Anthony Gonzales was meeting with Libertarian Party officials in an attempt to build a never-before-attempted bi-partisan grassroots alliance to advocate for more “local control” in upcoming Republican Primary races and the 2019 Legislature.

North, in rural Wise County, UNT graduate student Kari Nothiem was working to establish a location for our very own ozone monitor – in the only “non-attainment” county where the state still refuses to monitor for smog. It’s part of  a citizens network of new air quality monitors we’re working with UTD and others to establish across North Texas to replace the state’s obsolete system.

We hope you agree both the geographical and thematic reach of this new Downwinders at Risk is impressive for any group, but especially one that’s entirely dependent on DFW residents and resources. This is our home office. Your neighbors are our board members. This is our only work.

And if you’re reading this, you’re an important reason we’re still here. Even as our mission has broadened and deepened, you’ve been supportive. That’s taken a lot of faith at times. Thank you to each and every board member, volunteer, and contributor.

We started 2017 in suspect shape. We’re ending it with renewed vigor and optimism.

If 2017 was about renewal, 2018 is shaping-up to be a Reveille right out of the gate.

Batch plant permits in Joppa and West Dallas are due to show back up on the Dallas City Council Agenda in January. We’ll be there as part of our campaign to reduce PM pollution and argue that both communities need a bottom-to-top zoning review to better buffer people from pollution.

Those fights, plus transit system and school-based initiatives are on the agenda at our next No Safe Level campaign meeting on PM pollution scheduled for Saturday January 27th from 2 to 4 pm at the Meadows Conference Center 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. All are welcome.

It looks like we might have our first vote on a new regional air monitoring network at Dallas Commissioners Court on January 16th – the first step to a truly 21st Century approach directed by local governments.

Later that same day, the 2018 class of our College of Constructive Hell-Raising begins meeting (late-comers still being accepted….)

And if everything goes as planned, we’ll be announcing the creation of a broad left-right coalition working to restore local zoning powers to local governments in Austin sometime next month.

We had a very good Giving Day this year and you may feel as if you’ve paid your clean air resistance dues for 2017. We understand. But if you like the direction the group is going and you want to do some early 2018 voting with your pocketbook, we could sure use the help as our work expands.

Thanks for your continued support and your consideration of a contribution to the cause we’ll try our best to serve for a 23rd consecutive year.

 DONATE HERE

 

 

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30 of 454 solar panels being installed at Good Work courtesy of the Sue Pope Fund

You might have already seen the news in DFW GreenSource or the Dallas Business Journal, but after 11 years and $2.3 million, Texas largest clean air trust fund is going out with a solar bang.Downwinders at Risk’s Sue Pope Fund for Pollution Reduction is helping make GoodWork, Dallas’ newest and greenest co-working spaces, even greener by adding over $300,000 worth of rooftop solar panels with a large, final grant.  Electricity generated by the array is expected to supply fully half of the building’s power demand.

Administered by the board of Downwinders at Risk, the Fund is named after the group’s founder. In 2006 Sue Pope’s stubborn holdout on a permit renewal at a local cement plant was rewarded with a court settlement including a trust of $2.3 million to finance new North Texas clean air projects. It’s the largest fund of its kind in Texas, and the only one directed entirely by citizens.

Downwinders’ current board recently voted to close-out the Fund by awarding a final grant to just-opened GoodWork in support of its developers’ vision of providing a more sustainable model for local co-working spaces.

Located at 1808 Good-Latimer, near the Farmer’s Market, Good Work is a unique project combining co-working entrepreneurial spirit with green design inside and out. Lead draftsman Gary Opp already had a reputation as one of the Texas’ premiere “green” architects when he took on the task of repurposing a mid-20th Century produce warehouse into a modern office and living space. He’s using the opportunity to build himself a new office, incorporating many elements he’s been offering clients for years.

Co-owner Amy King served with the US Green Building Council in Washington DC and believed Dallas was ready for a co-working space that stressed sustainability. GoodWork is the first LEED Platinum-certified co-working space in North Texas.

Since 2006, the Pope Fund has granted $2 million to 24 clean air projects in North Texas, including purchasing a hybrid School bus for the Midlothian ISD, buying air conditioning for the McKinney Avenue Trolleys so more commuters would ride them in “ozone season,” old for new lawn mower exchanges in Dallas and Plano, the first mass transit in modern Arlington history, energy efficiency upgrades at Fort Worth’s Child Study Center, smart cars for City Hall in Mansfield, and a block of solar-powered homes near Fair Park.

The Pope Fund was the last remnant of a “good neighbor” court settlement negotiated between Downwinders at Risk and Holcim Cement’s Midlothian plant after the facility illegally increased its smog-forming pollution.

Downwinders’ Director Jim Schermbeck said issuing the final grant was a bittersweet finale to an historic chapter in the group’s history. “We’re sad to finally run out of money but glad we could spend it on something so high profile. We’re confident the array will become a signature piece for Good Work and a great advertisement for solar power.”

Still living on the same Midlothian ranch she’s resided on for decades, Sue Pope gave a ringing endorsement to capping off her to her namesake Fund with the Goodwork grant.

Each day we witness the reasons for which we must change our way of doing things in order to protect our earth.  Contributing to GoodWork’s will be very productive for everyone.  I already have forty five solar panels on my house roof.”

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An Underdog’s Thanksgiving

by jim on November 23, 2017

SMU’s conglomeration of millionaire students and multimillion-dollar buildings On The Hilltop might seem an unlikely place for a Thanksgiving tribute to people who steadily worked to undermine some of the more fantastic ambitions of the school’s alumni, and perhaps an even unlikelier place to find solace in their resistance.

But if you’re a DFW resident who’s curious about how the Status Quo can be un-Quoed, you might want to stop by the art gallery inside the SMU Student Union Building to see some ancient artifacts that show how things have changed, or not, since the early 1970’s. And while you’re there you might also want to give thanks to your predecessors, who were no less anguished, isolated, and outspent than you are now.

Entitled “Wide Open,” the  gallery’s exhibit itself is meant to connect contemporary artists around the idea of Dallas as a “port city.” It includes everything from landscape-altering prophecies about the worst case climate change scenarios to the injury committed by even the smallest incidental industrial releases we might otherwise never notice. That’s the art. But there’s also the history.

In the middle of the gallery there’s a single big floating table with a host of documents and memorabilia. Collectively they tell the creation story of the modern Dallas-Fort Worth environmental movement. And so much more. They tell you how to make Change happen, how to undo “done deals” and how “small groups of misguided people” bring down the ambitions of local power brokers.

In 1972, the economic engine which the Chambers of Commerce and elected officials agreed could zoom DFW past other growing Sunbelt rivals was …a barge canal from North Texas all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It was going to be a Lone Star Panama Canal making us a prairie port city.

The canalization of the Trinity River was touted as a state-of-the-art engineering project that would make the region a commercial crossroads. The river already functioned as an open sewer for industries from the Northside slaughterhouses in Fort Worth to the lead smelters in West and South Dallas. The Trinity was smelled more than seen. Cementing its sides and straightening its bends looked like just a formality to the Powers-That-Be.

Supporting canalization were Dallas Congressmen Earle Cabell, (Dem), Jim Collins, (Rep) Fort Worth Congressman Jim Wright (Dem), Mid Cities Congressman Dale Milford (Dem), Dallas Mayor Wes Wise, Fort Worth Mayor Sharkey Stovall, and virtually all of the Fort Worth and Dallas downtown business establishment, led by the powerful Citizens Charter Association. You may know this group by its newer name: the Dallas Citizens Council.

Opposing them was birdwatcher and attorney Ned Fritz, and a small circle of citizens. And it’s his official archives at SMU’s Degolyer Library that were raided to populate the gallery table’s displays.

Fritz was Dallas’ original unrepentant treehugger. By the time Trinity River canalization came to a head, he’d already single-handedly stopped the channelization of Bachman Creek, which cut through his property, and successfully defended the wildflowers he grew in his front yard against the City’s attempts to force him to plant St. Augustine like everyone else. He also had a great deal of familiarity with the Trinity River as it ran through southeast Texas’ Big Thicket forest and as early as the mid-1960’s had begun advocating federal protection for this piece of exotic wilderness. He rightly saw the canal as the biggest threat to that goal.

A COST meeting in the basement of Don Smith’s house.

On April 13, 1972, Fritz and a handful of other early canal opponents met at the house of SMU economics professor Don Smith and formed an organization called Citizens Organization for a Sound Trinity (COST). Among them was Henry Fulcher, a Republican businessman and James F. White, a theology professor at SMU, who both thought the canal, now estimated at $1.6 billion and growing, was an extravagant boondoggle. Jim Bush was a Navarro College student who’d grown up camping along the banks of the Trinity and Mary Wright was one of the leading Sierra Club members in Dallas. They both knew canalization would destroy the natural habitat and eco-systems of countless species.

Wright had met Alan Steelman at a Republican Women’s Club gathering in Dallas. A young and hipper Republican, Steelman was seeking the Republican nomination in May to run against much more conservative incumbent Democratic Congressman and avid Canal supporter, Earle Cabell in November (yes, that Earle Cabell).

Wright briefed Steelman about the canal. Steelman listened. During the Republican Primary he wondered aloud whether Dallas needed barge transportation when the massive new regional airport between Dallas and Fort Worth was to begin operation in 1973. Steelman dubbed the project a “billion-dollar ditch.” He won the Republican nomination and headed to a showdown with Cabell.

On the left is a plea to Houston area Democratic Congressman Bob Eckhardt from Ned Fritz to come out against the Trinity River Canal to balance support in the DFW delegation – with the notable exception of Alan Steelman. On the right, a piece of Steelman Campaign literature.

Still, it was assumed the canal was a done deal. There were already federal appropriations for it. All the decision-makers were for it.

But in October 1972, at a small hearing of homeowners fighting an Army Corps of Engineers-planned channelization of Garland’s Duck Creek, a local bureaucrat let it slip that there would have to be a local bond issue to provide starter money for the canal. Uncle Sam was requiring the 17 counties along the Trinity River to put up $150 million in seed money.

This was the game changer. It was the first time that citizens in Dallas knew that the project was going to require some money from their pockets.

Then Steelman actually won his race against Cabell in November 1972 with an unexpectedly high 56 per cent of the vote.

This made the Local Establishment very nervous. The Charter Association and Chamber reflexively adopted the paternalistic downtown Dallas approach of not asking too many questions, citing a need to keep up with other cities, and claiming “only extremists would oppose this” great Big Idea.

On the left is a letter from Tom Thumb founder and Dallas civic leader Charles Cullum, on behalf of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, deriding Trinity River canal opponents as a “small group of misguided people”. On the right is a telegram to newly elected Dallas Congressman Alan Steelman from COST president Henry Fulcher congratulating Steelman on his victory over Canal advocate and incumbent congressman Earl Cabell in the Nov 1972 elections.

According to COST veterans, the Chamber’s name-calling “won more active opponents to the canal project every time they uttered it.” Anti-Establishmentarianism was getting local.

Congressional hearings that were considered a technicality before Steelman’s election now became a forum for growing discontent. Ned Fritz had a bigger, more receptive audience for his warnings and he had more allies. New studies confirmed downstream dams would wreak havoc on local species and ecosystems, and flood thousands of acres of hardwood forest. The Environmental Policy Center in Washington called the Trinity River canal project the nation’s “number one boondoggle.” A representative of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said the project would cause “wholesale devastation” to the environment.

Canal backers panicked and set the bond vote before they thought opposition could catch fire. Passing up an opportunity to hold it in conjunction with city council elections in Dallas and Fort Worth and several other cities, or when the Dallas school board elections and several smaller city elections would be held, the Powers-That-Be set the vote for a totally different Tuesday in the middle of March. Officials said the election was purposely held separately from any other elections because the Authority felt the people “should not have the issue clouded with any other electoral matters.”

On the left is one of the first notices that opponents to Canalization had formed a group – COST. On the right is a request for local PBS station KERA to host a Town Hall on the Canal issue.

The date conveniently fell two weeks before an environmental impact study on the Trinity project was due to be released by the Corps of Engineers, and a few months before a revised Corps cost study was to be released.

Canal backers assembled an advertising and promotional campaign that would be familiar to anyone who just sat through two decades of Trinity Toll Road salesmanship. Estimated cost? $500,000 – $3 million in 2017 dollars.

COST sprung into action too – with inexpensive radio ads and mailings. Opponents in Dallas and Forth Worth ended up spending a grand total of $22,000. A favorite COST slogan was “Your money, Their canal.”

Opponents figured that if they could get 56 % of the vote in Dallas County and break even in Tarrant County they could afford to lose by big margins in the other 15 down-river counties that had to vote on the project. A majority of all voters and a majority of the 17 counties had to approve the project for it to pass.

The vote turnout was overwhelming—almost twice as large in Dallas as three weeks later for the city council elections. Dallas voted 56 per cent against it, Tarrant County went 54 per cent against it; and opponents got 47 per cent of the vote in the other 15 counties, actually carrying seven of them.

Had Fritz and COST lost that fight, DFW might still be dealing with a host of environmental and social nightmares.

Imagine a second Houston Ship Channel stretching from Hutchins or South Dallas to Fort Worth, lining a concrete ditch with heavy industry on both sides, and anyone who accidentally falls in must be sent to the Emergency Room for a precautionary exam just for coming in contact with the water. Imagine the additional air pollution and risk of exposure to exotic carcinogens for Black and Brown DFW when all kinds of new undesirable industry moves to join the smelters and slaughterhouses in their communities – still doing gangbuster business in the early 70’s. Imagine the Great Trinity Forest as a container port. Imagine no Big Thicket. Imagine the river with no trees, no greenery of any kind, devoid of any natural relationship with the land it runs through. A billion-dollar ditch.

All of that was at stake. A completely different reality. And with only campaign couch money to spend, a small group of committed citizens created a much different future for us in the here and now almost 50 years later. Give Thanks.

And then realize that victory was anything but preordained. It was hard work. It was persistence. It was failure after failure until something stuck to the wall or a lucky break occurred. Letters, telegrams (telegrams!), and fliers on the gallery table offer a recognizable peek into COST’s strategy and tactics for anyone who’s ever taken on City Hall. You see the wheels of a campaign trying to turn and get traction.

Who’s profitable ox would be gored with a canal? Railroads. On the gallery table is a letter from the rail industry agreeing with Fritz that the canal is a bad idea but begging off on coming out in full throat opposition and giving needed money to the cause. A good idea but a dead end. Since all the local DFW Congressmen were for the canal, would Congressman Bob Eckhardt from Houston come out in opposition? He did. Can we get Channel 13 to sponsor a televised Town Hall meeting on the Canal? Yes.

Opposing the canalization of the Trinity River was the work of “environmental extremists” even when you had SMU Seminary faculty, fiscally-conservative Republicans, and George Wallace supporters opposing the same thing. It was having the establishment do every. little. petty. thing. to insure your failure. It was not being certain if you were doing the right thing at the right time or not. It was having no real institutional support or guidance from anywhere, or anyone. It was Do-It-Yourself change-making from scratch.

In other words, it was very similar to now.

You can’t read the material about the Trinity River Canal at the gallery without seeing The Trinity River Toll Road as a sequel to the story it tells. It’s too easy to substitute Angela Hunt and other battle-tested toll road opponents for Ned Fritz and the canal when reading the business establishment’s knee jerk responses, or scanning the line-ups of the two sides. The names have changed, but the players are still the same. And the battle explored here not only follows the familiar contours of that road fight but any Dallas grassroots vs Establishment fight over the past decades – The Gas Wars, Fair Park, The Lead Smelters, New Freeways in Oak Cliff and South Dallas, etc.

Hunt, and other reliable opponents of newer Dallas Citizen Council Big Ideas like Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston have also been outspent, mocked, and isolated. And they’ve also won. Give Thanks.

Ned Fritz went on to found The League of Conservation Voters and establish what we now revere as The Big Thicket National Forest along with countless other accomplishments before he passed in 2008.  He himself is a much-admired and oft-cited reference for many who would have found themselves on the opposite side of an argument with him when he was alive. Being dead tends to make you less threatening to the Status Quo.

Meanwhile the living spiritual descendants of Ned Fritz still remain at large and dangerous in the DFW area. Give Thanks…

…And get thee to SMU’s Temporary Temple of the Underdog before it closes on December 3rd.

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Toxic Particulate Matter – “PM” – is the New Lead

PM is the scientific name for industrial soot. It comes from burning things. Wood. Gasoline. Diesel. Coal. Waste. Everything that depends on on burning something, produces Particulate Matter: cars, trucks, buses, locomotives, boilers, furnaces, kilns, etc.

PM pollution is tiny. It’s much smaller than nature’s dust particles that our nose hairs, throat and lungs have evolved to handle most of the time. Because its so small PM pollution can actually pass through your lungs’ lining and goes directly into your bloodstream. From there it goes to any organ it’s carried to – the liver, the reproductive system, the brain.

Numerous studies have shown the terrible impact of PM pollution on human lungs and hearts.It causes heart attacks, strokes, asthma and COPD.  More recent studies have shown a whole new threat. Exposure to PM is now linked to AHAD and Austim in children, and Dementia and Parkinson’s disease in adults.  Immune system and reproductive organ damage have also been ties to PM exposure. Like lead in paint and gasoline, this pollution can do damage to a person’s social and intellectual capacities, not just physical ones


 

PUBLIC INFO & BRAINSTORMING SESSION:

The Dangers of PM Pollution and What We Can Do About It in DFW

Saturday, December 9th

2 – 4 pm

2900 Live Oak in East Dallas

ALL ARE WELCOME

 


 

This year the most comprehensive study on PM pollution health effects ever produced was published by Harvard’s School of Public Health. It covered 60 million people over 12 years.

It found significant health damage occurring at levels well below the current EPA standard and concluded there is no “safe” level of exposure to PM pollution. That is, there is no exposure that is not capable of doing some harm to you, no matter how small.

That same study found African-American seniors were three times more likely to die from PM exposure than any other group, with Latinos and Asians also suffering disproportionately. “Point Sources” (smokestacks) of PM are more likely to be in located in low-income communities of color. People of color are more likely to ride diesel-powered buses used for public transit or live along PM-spewing freeways. There’s no other type of pollution that’s linked so closely to how “undesirable” industries and people were forced to live next to one another over the decades.

Here in DFW we’ve flirted with high regional levels of PM pollution but we really don’t know the extent of it since the EPA and State only have four PM monitors for the entire DFW area of seven million people.

That’s why our first job is to help map PM pollution hot spots in DFW. Downwinders is building a “Citizen’s Guide to PM Pollution” that identifies all the largest sources of PM pollution – factories, railways, freeways, transit and school bus routes.

We’re purchasing portable PM pollution monitors citizens can use to police their own neighborhoods and helping to build a new monitoring network that cities can use to track events like the one on Oct 19th – that still remains a mystery.

What can be done in DFW to reduce our exposure to PM pollution? New controls on industry of course, including the cement kilns and coal plants. But also electrification of bus fleets, buffer zones beside freeways, and a detangling of pollution and people in places like West and South Dallas and the Northside of Fort Worth that require pushing the reset button on local planning.

Just turning bus route shelters 180° around so they don’t openly face street traffic has been found to reduce exposure to PM pollution by 30-50% for transit riders – one of the populations at highest risk for PM exposure.

PM pollution is everywhere. It’s so ubiquitous we take it for granted. Much like people took cigarette smoking for granted 40 years ago. And that’s where we’re at with this campaign, at the very beginning of a massive public health education and advocacy effort, a no-smoking campaign for machines that also has the potential to reshape planning, politics, and culture. We have a huge task ahead of us. And we need your help.

Come join us on December 9th to learn more about this insidious from of air pollution and help us come-up with the best approaches for where to start reducing it in DFW.

Saturday, Dec. 9th    2-4 PM    Meadows Conference Center    2900 Live Oak

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The Texification of the EPA

by jim on November 13, 2017

In the last year one thing the Trump Administration has done well is transplant the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) approach to its job to the EPA.

Up until the last month or so that mimicking was in spirit only for the most part. But with two high-profile appointments, Trumps’ EPA has imported the very worst aspects of TCEQ’s cynical negligence.

Kathleen Hartnett-White was appointed by then Governor Rick Perry to be a TCEQ Commissioner on behalf of Big Ag in 2001 and served until 2007. She’s a West Texas cattle rancher who served as a National Cattleman’s Association lobbyist and with her stint on the TCEQ expanded her portfolio to include the usual laundry list of industry grievances.

In 2007, she voted to give the TXU an air permit for coal-fired power units at its Oak Grove site in Texas – the last coal plant permitted in the state.

“She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan. She also voted to approve TXU’s pollution-intensive Oak Grove coal units, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.” Sierra Club? Downwinders? Nope. Try the Dallas Morning News.

Downwinders’ representatives have been in small conference rooms negotiating with White over DFW clean air plans. She was no different in private than she is in public: industry can do no wrong and is never at fault.

Up until recently she’s been making money as an industry mouthpiece at the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, funded by a who’s who of energy and utility companies, including Koch Industries Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., and pieces of the former TXU, such as Luminant and Oncor.

Now she heads up the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a position that coordinates environmental and energy policies across the federal government.

Michael Honeycutt is TCEQ’s Chief Toxicologist. You know him as the guy who says smog isn’t so bad for you. Same thing for Mercury, the risks of which are “overstated” and Arsenic, which is viewed unrealistically toxic by the (old) EPA.

Now he’s Head of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board. This is a little akin to putting the head of the Inquisition in charge of Galileo’s astronomy lab. In announcing his appointment EPA administrator Scott Pruitt praised Honeycutt as a “wonderful scientist.”

It’s the culmination of a long lobbying campaign to get Honeycutt imbedded somewhere in the federal regulatory apparatus. In 2016,  he sent more than 100 emails to industry representatives, state air pollution regulators, university professors and scientists asking them to support his nomination to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. At the time, he wrote that it would be a “minor miracle” if he were selected. It took a major one with the election of Donald Trump.

These selections make it clear that the EPA is closed for business as long as the current crew is in charge. It won’t have the money to do its job, it won’t have the employees, and it won’t have the motivation. Indeed, the object is to dismantle the Agency.

After years of Republican statehouse control, this lazaire-faire approach to pollution is easily recognizable to us here in Texas. What’s new is its wholesale arrival in DC. Neither Bush Senior or W put these kind of science deniers in charge.

These appointments make it crystal clear that states or cities that want to protect air quality are on their own.

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Not quite two weeks ago, on Thursday October 19th, something happened to throw local air quality conditions into the red zone for most of the day.

There was a inexplicable smokey haze extending along the limestone escarpment from Midlothian to Dallas and then north to Denton, sending Particulate Matter pollution soaring to Beijing levels and ozone readings so high the whole regional average went up a part per billion. Countless downwind residents complained to officials, FaceBooked, and Tweeted about “the smell of burning plastic” enveloping their neighborhoods with the smoke, which was so thick many thought the problem was just down the street.

The 24-hour standard for Particulate Matter Pollution is 150 ug/m3. The annual standard is 12. 

70 ppb is the new ozone standard. 

The events took the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality completely by surprise. Commission computer forecasting had not predicted an Ozone Alert Day or warned of heavy PM pollution. Officials were playing catch-up for the rest of the day.

Now almost two weeks later nobody official knows what caused this Really Bad Air Day. Not the EPA. Not the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Not the DFW area citizens who breathed in the dirtiest air their lungs have seen all year.

Despite the sophisticated technology available to us in 2017, a single unexpected incident upwind of DFW can throw the entire North Texas air shed into the danger zone with no warning and no clue as to what initiated it. 

Readings from state monitors were of no help until damage had already been done. As usual they were two hours or more behind in reporting. The numbers they were displaying at 12 noon were actually taken at 10 am. You had no idea what was going on in real time so that you might better protect yourself or family.

There are only three or four Particulate Matter pollution monitors in all of DFW. Even if you’d wanted to use the state’s current monitoring system to track this mystery plume, you couldn’t have done so. It doesn’t have that capability.

As inquiring reporters called, the TCEQ staff found a variety of things to blame. TCEQ suggested the smoke was from a Bastrop forest fire near Austin.  But readings from monitors between Bastrop/Austin and Dallas show there was no problem south of Midlothian that day, while there was a huge problem north of there at the same time. Eyewitnesses who saw the plume on Thursday reported a thick narrow ribbon of a plume you’d see coming off a near-by source, not the sort of diffused cloud you’d expect to witness after  traveling more than a hundred miles downwind. And then there’s that “burned-plastic smell.”

Then it was maybe one or more “controlled burns” in the Midlothian-Mansfield area. As it turns out, neither fire department found evidence of any permitted controlled burns in their own jurisdictions that could have cause so much pollution. Midlothian’s single permitted fire for the day was “the size of a coffee table” according to a department employee.

According to the Mansfield Fire Department “a fire” was reported to be located at Kimball Road and Hwy 287 just north of the Midlothian city limits. This is what’s at that intersection:

Please note the caution against open flames. Could a fracking site have produced the kind of particulate matter pollution and haze we saw on October 19th without methane or other kinds of pollution being released en masse as well? It doesn’t seem like it could. But what if the fracking site had been turned into a temporary waste incineration site for the day?

That’s not all. A satellite pic of the intersection and what’s around it reveals Kimball and Hwy 287 to be a kind of rogue’s gallery of potential suspects:

Besides the fracking sites you can be see in mid-drilling on this Google street level tour, the road leads to a Trinity River Authority Wastewater Treatment plant and the back door of the giant Ash Grove cement plant. 

TRA is a shadowy, 60-year old regional bureaucracy that owns millions of acres of land, reservoirs, landfills, and wastewater-treatment facilities. It’s been in environmental hot water before. Wastewater treatment accumulates a lot of solids, and the TRA handles a lot of trash. It’s not inconceivable that it had something to do with the October 19th incident by thinking it could get away with an open burn on its own property.

Ditto for Ash Grove. Like the other two cement plants in Midlothian, Ash Grove’s kiln is allowed to burn industrial waste, including used oil, tires and plastics – remember the oft-cited “smell of burning plastic” citizens reported on the 19th? Waste-burning cement plants have had their wastes combust and cause huge fires before and each plant has its own emergency response crew which might be able to put out a fire without calling Midlothian.

There’s no proof Ash Grove, TRA or the fracking sites were the cause of the October 19th public health disaster. But there’s also no proof yet they didn’t cause the problem.

The truth is: there’s no official explanation for what made the air so dangerous to breathe on October 19th .

More truth: As of Friday, October 27th the TECQ had not even opened an official investigation into this matter – which again, sent Particulate Matter pollution to levels not seen outside SE Asia and single-handedly raised the regional ozone level.

This is why Downwinders at Risk filed the first of what we’re sure will be a series of Texas Open Record Act requests last Friday seeking:

“Any and all printed or electronic documents and electronic media containing information concerning or related to ozone, particulate matter and/or haze air pollution readings and levels in the Dallas-Forth Worth non-attainment area on Thursday, October 19th 2017, including official ozone action warnings issued, complaints filed about air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that day, photographs, satellite images, computer modeling, as well as all material related to any questions, inquiries, or investigations about air quality in DFW on October 19th anyone in the TCEQ, or contracted by TCEQ has been tasked to perform since October 19th or is still performing currently, and e-mails, letters, reports, telephone logs and notes, memos and all other material about October 19th air quality from 6 am Tuesday October 19th to Wednesday October 25th, 2017.”

TCEQ has until November 10th to respond. We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, this episode becomes Exhibit A in why DFW needs to catch-up with other metro areas and build its own network of high tech air quality sensors. 

If such a grid had been in place, there would have been a real time warning of the PM and ozone pollution being generated shortly after the it started. There would have been a way to locate the source of the pollution right away and do something about it before it got worse, and there would have been a way to predict the plume’s course and warn those in its path before it got there – not two hours after it arrived.

In this sense a modern sensor grid is actually a pollution prevention device, an investigative tool, and an early warning system all rolled into one. 

In a metropolitan area that’s been out of compliance with the Clean air Act for 27 years and counting over 14 million lungs are being held hostage by a state air quality monitoring system left over from the 1990’s. It’s being maintained by a state agency that’s run by polluters, officially thinks smog isn’t bad for you, and is cutting its air monitoring budget.

There’s no desire in Austin to update this obsolete system and no money to do so. If DFW officials want to utilize 21st Century technology to help them clean their air, they’re going to have to build their own network of air monitors – exactly the proposal the DFW Air Research Consortium was trying to get funded with a National Science Foundation grant. Close, but no cigar.

Without the NSF grant, local officials are going to need to get creative. Are there private businesses who might want to sponsor an app that could tell give you useful air quality info in exchange for naming rights: “Brought to you by the Nissan Leaf DFW Clean Air Network.” Are there local foundations that would contribute? What about local high-tech billionaire Mark Cuban? For less than a million bucks, DFW could have 500 Particulate Matter sensors that would be capable of of pinpointing a problem down to the street address.

Baltimore, Chicago, Chattanooga, Louisville, L.A. , Oakland, and Lafayette, Louisiana are all way ahead of DFW in building out their own local dense grid of air sensors. They’ve done it with a combination of private, government and academic know-how and financing.

We have as much, or more technical expertise and money than any of those locales and we should have more incentive given our chronic air pollution problem. There’s no reason we can’t build our own modern, more protective, more useful way of monitoring air pollution – even if the state isn’t interested. Not only can we do it, but in light of the events of October 19th, it should be considered a necessary act of public health self-defense. 

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Burning Plastic Campaign Gets “Stuff”ed

by jim on October 16, 2017

Say NO to Dirty #Energy Bag

Dow Chemical and Keep America Beautiful’s latest greenwashing scheme burns #plastic in a cement kiln and calls it “recycling.” We need reduction, not combustion! Take action NOW: bit.ly/dirtyenergybagDirty #energybag #breakfreefromplastic Video courtesy of The Story of Stuff Project

Posted by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) on Thursday, October 12, 2017

 

Our efforts to stop plastic garbage burning in cement plants got a boost last week when the San-Francisco based Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives (GAIA) kicked-off a national campaign with a video from the The “Story of Stuff” folks accompanying a pledge of opposition to the practice you and your group can sign online.

In July, we reported on a plan by DOW Chemical and Keep America Beautiful to encourage you to bag up those “hard-to-recycle” plastics and send them to a cement kiln to be burned without the expense of all those environmental controls you’d have to deal with at a legitimate waste disposal site. The two were offering US communities at least $50,000 in subsidies to go along with the idea.

This is already happening in Omaha, where 8,500 homes have filled 13,000 “Hefty Energy Bags”  since the program’s launch a year ago. That’s resulted in more than 13,000 pounds of plastics being burned in a near-by cement kiln. 

Since DFW is home to the largest concentration of cement plant manufacturing capacity in the country, and since those cement plants already burn industrial wastes in an attempt to cut their high fuel costs, the expectation is that this practice will sooner or later be proposed for North Texas cities. And indeed, when DOW and Keep America Beautiful held a press conference advocating plastics burning across the country this summer, there was a big red star right over DFW as part of the project’s projected growth.

The Story of Stuff video from GAIA actually takes the video DOW used to introduce its “energy bags” earlier this year and tweaks it to tell the story of “dirty energy bags.”

GAIA’s plastics pledge looks like this and any individual or group can sign on:

The GAIA website makes the case that single-use plastics already crowd our landfills and pollute our waterways, but burning them offers a greenwashing “relief valve” to allow continued, or even increased production of this kind of plastic.

Burning plastics can release Mercury, Dioxins and metals into the atmosphere – and your lungs. Cement plants are not equipped with the same pollution controls as a single-purpose garbage incinerator, and so they emit many times more of this kind of pollution than even a single-purpose garbage incinerator.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and in order to make sure we have a liveable planet for generations to come, we need to transition to a circular economy where our products can be easily reused or recycled, not produced from scratch using greenhouse gases.

Send a message that you will not support the Hefty Energy Bag in your city, and let’s expose the truth behind the bag!

Please Go online and sign the pledge. 

It will take you all of 30 seconds, but it will send a message to stop this very bad idea before it gets too far.

And if you haven’t already, you can still send an email to the chair of Keep America Beautiful with our click ‘n send featured citizen action. Helen Lowman’s from Texas and maybe you can convince her this isn’t a very neighborly thing to do.

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You might not think of Rap when you hear the name Downwinders, but the first two students enrolled in our 2018 College of Constructive Hell-Raising includes a local-Rhymensaurous-made-good who came home to do good for his Pleasant Grove neighborhood, and his longtime running buddy who aspires to build a new grassroots Southern Dallas constituency for change.

25 year-old Rikki Blu (on the right) has bounced around the nation following a musical career, including a recent stint on the West Coast where Sprite and SoundCloud featured tunes from his 2015 debut EP, Pleasant Grove.

But he moved back home to the Grove to raise a family and maybe, with some luck, organize a new group of South Dallas residents like himself who want more to see more progress made south of I-30. Joining him in this mission is his friend Marcellus George, an outspoken advocate for shaking-up the status quo. Together, they want to remake South Dallas politics with their non-profit Neighborhood Interest Committee.

They think the College of Constructive Hell-Raising can help them. “It’s a way to understand how not only to improve our own lives but others as well” said George.

He’s right. The College is North Texas’ only school devoted to teaching the principles of community organizing that can help whole neighborhoods better themselves. But it also helps its students think less like “activists” and more like “organizers,” encouraging the ability to imagine how a series of planned short-term steps can lead to larger, longer-term goals.

Besides learning the basics, a Who’s Who of veteran local community organizers fill gaps in recent DFW social justice history many students didn’t even know they had and provide successful examples in the real world of change on the ground – yes, even in Texas.

Veteran Dallas civil rights organizer Peter Johnson, local LBGT legends Don Maison and Patti Fink,  environmental justice leader Luis Sepulveda, peace and anti-nuke organizer Mavis Belisle, original Bois D’arc Patriot John Fullenwider, and Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, are some of the advocates students will have access to during the course. As this list might suggest, although Downwinders at risk is dedicated to cleaner air, the College isn’t aimed just at environmentalists. Anyone interested in learning how they can use the techniques of community organizing to further their own cause is invited to attend.

A great example is Clarice Criss, Class of ’17 featured just last week on Channel 8 for her organic community garden in South Dallas that provides fresh, non-toxic fruits and veggies to families on WIC assistance. Criss, from one of Dallas most historic and distinguished Black families, has said “The College confirmed for me that I want to spend the rest of my life organizing to help people in underprivileged communities. I cried at graduation.”

This week the College began public enrollment for the Spring 2018 semester. You can apply here.

There are ten sessions in all. We meet twice a month from January to May at the Meadows Conference Center, Tuesday evenings, from 7 to 9 pm.  A full schedule, the complete list of guest lecturers, and the application for the 2018 semester is online here.

Students are encouraged but not required to attend informal discussions with guest lecturers at the Bryan Street Tavern after class adjourns, over beer and pizza.

Preference will be given to existing DFW groups who want to better train volunteers or staff and help pay for enrollment with scholarships, but all are welcome. The cost is $200. It includes a book, and lots of reading material.  No payment is required to apply. Scholarships are available, and applicants can indicate your interest in getting a full or half scholarship on the application.

Rikki and Marcellus know what they want to do with their College education. What would you do with yours? Join us for the 2018 class.

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