Dow, Hefty and Keep America Clean’s proposal to burn plastics via bright orange “energy bags” in cement kilns is new but the idea of using kilns as industrial kitchen dispose-alls is not.

DFW has been identified as a national waste disposal destination because of its cement plants since at least the mid 1980’s. And as long as they continue to operate, the area will continue to be seen as a desirable dumping ground.

All these buildings, and roads, and “developments” have to be made out of something. They’re mostly made out of cement. In an area that’s grown by a Tyler or Richardson a year since 1970, cement is as ubiquitous as the air in your lungs. You just take it for granted. But it comes from somewhere and it gets made someplace.

Brought to you by…Cement!

In our case, that place is here – right over there, in Midlothian, just a couple of miles across the Dallas and Tarrant County lines to the south. You know, the direction the wind blows from most of the time.

And its a big place. There’s a Chamber of Commerce sign in downtown Midlothian proclaiming the town the “Cement Capitol of Texas.” There are three large cement plants – TXI, Ash Grove and Holcim – that quarry the limestone rock they need from the escarpment that runs north-south along I-35 for most of the length of the state. But the sign is too modest. Befitting one of the fastest growing areas in the country, it’s the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the nation.

The Chamber of Commerce sign in downtown Midlothian

These aren’t batch plants. Think coal plants. Smokestacks hundreds of feet high. Furnaces, or kilns, as long as football fields. In 2015, the three plants released 475 tons of Particulate Matter pollution, 2040 tons of Sulfur Dioxide, and 510 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds – more pollution than the totals from entire North Texas counties.

That pollution goes somewhere. Depending on where you live, some of it lands in your lungs.

Holcim – one of three Midlothian cement plants

All three cement plants are in Midlothian to mine the limestone rock just like coal plants would strip-mine coal. Midlothian has a lot of cement kilns because that’s where the raw material for cement is, not because of any other reason.

But unlike coal, the limestone isn’t flammable and for there to be cement, the kilns must reach and maintain a flame of at least 1700 degrees F to bake the limestone with other ingredients. This is the way cement has been made since Rome perfected the process two millennia ago. You bake rock…just so.

And that flame is your number one operating expense as a cement plant owner. It accounts for up to 40% the costs of doing business. Anything you can do to reduce the costs of that flame saves you money. And that equation is the basis of constant mischief in the industry.

When the first Midlothian cement plant opened in 1960, and when the second one opened in 1965, the rock was baked with fire fueled by Texas natural gas. By the time the third cement plant opened in the mid-1980’s , the first couple of “energy crisis” had hit and they all three begun to burn cheaper coal.

The lance of the flame inside a cement kiln, or furnace

But another trend started in the 1980’s. Two of the three cement plants took advantage of a loophole in a new federal law and began burning hazardous wastes to bake their limestone rock.

Unlike gas and coal, the cement plants were paid by hazardous waste generators and middlemen to burn these wastes, so the plants not only saved the cost of buying fuel, they actually profited from becoming incinerators, and labeling waste as “fuel.” Hazardous waste burning at U.S. cement plants peaked in the 1990’s.

Air computer model of where the smog pollution from all three Midlothian cement plants goes during a typical year

Even after many cement plants have stopped burning hazardous wastes, they continue to burn “industrial wastes” like used oil, tires and shredded car interiors. When burned in kilns, these waste often produce exactly the same toxic air pollution as hazardous wastes. That’s what’s happening in Midlothian now. Although decades of citizen action have modernized the equipment and stopped the burning of official hazardous waste, the three cement plants continue to burn a wide variety of materials, and the pollution continues to blow wherever the wind takes it. 

As long as there’s limestone to be mined, the cement plants will remain open in Midlothian. As long as they stay open in Midlothian, they’re going to try to burn all kinds of wastes. When they do, they release a lot of toxic air pollution. And as long as the wind patterns stay the same that means that seven million DFW residents will be exposed to that toxic air pollution.

And that’s the reason why DFW is always just one multinational decision away from being downwind of a huge hazardous waste incinerator again, or a municipal waste incinerator, or a medical waste incinerator: Because we’re already downwind of the three hungry cement plants that need to burn any and everything they can get their hands on, the cheaper the better. And if they can get paid to throw things in the fire, well that’s a business formula they can get behind.  As long as they need to feed their flames, they’re out combing the streets for things to burn – including “hard to burn plastics” for an industry that needs its own greenwashing cover story. 

Until the manufacturing of cement no longer demands a sun-hot flame, or they run out of limestone rock, the Midlothian cement plants pose pose a huge on-going air pollution threat. The Dow project to burn plastics is just the latest, but not last, chapter. That’s why as long as there’s cement being made here, there also needs to be vigilant downwinders.

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DFW EJ Issues Get Some Muscle

by jim on August 14, 2017

New Attorneys and Paralegals Give Citizens Options

We know things look bleak right now. There are few bright spots. You wonder if every new possible small light you see is the end of the tunnel…or another train about to run you over.

Which makes what’s happening at the North Texas Legal Aid offices remarkable and worth knowing about.

For the first time in anyone’s memory, there are two attorneys, and at least that many paralegals, specifically dedicated to providing “free legal services, advocacy, and community education to individuals, community groups, and non-profit organizations” working on Environmental Justice issues.

And not just Environmental Justice. Fair and affordable housing, as well as more democratic and equitable community development now have many more local advocates than they did just a few months ago.

In essence, DFW citizens just got their own legal defense fund amped up to 11.

Legal Aid is an independent federal nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. As long as you meet the agency’s income criteria, you have access to free legal services and resources (income up to 125% of the U.S. poverty line. In certain cases up to 200%). Both Dallas and Fort Worth have had under-staffed, under-budgeted offices for years, but still managed to do good work.

Representing rural residents of “Cement Valley,” a Dallas Legal Services lawyer, Robert Doggett, was co-counsel in Downwinders’ fight against the TXI hazardous-waste burning permit throughout  the 1990’s. But that kind of direct participation in a high-profile environmental fight has been rare. These fresh hires are looking to change that. 

As part of the newly-funded “Community Revitalization Project,” these attorneys will be providing assistance and education to communities and individuals on how to use the law to ensure fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people—regardless of race, color, national origin, or income—with respect to the government’s development and implementation of environmental policies, as well as the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations against polluters. The objective of CRP is to help ensure that all communities provide the opportunity for residents to live in a clean and healthy environment.” 

In addition, staff will also assist “individuals and communities in developing and maintaining affordable housing, fighting housing discrimination and other illegal housing practices, and meaningfully participating in the development and implementation of policies that affect their neighborhoods. The goal is to help ensure that individuals and communities have equal access to affordable, accessible, and safe housing.” They’ll help to “educate citizens about their right to offer meaningful input on matters affecting their communities. CRP also works with communities to advocate for economic justice, develop fair access to transportation, fight predatory lending practices, and address systemic inequalities commonly found in low-income communities.” 

New lawyers from the Project are landing in other major Texas cities as well. There’s potential to do a lot of good here.

Moreover, the budgets for these new positions are not subject to Presidential, Congressional or state political tantrums. They’re funded for at least the next four years with money from a multi-million dollar settlement from legal claims arising from mortgage-related activities by Bank of America and its subsidiaries.”  

The monies are distributed by a third party, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. They can’t be messed with. There’s hope of making the Project’s positions and mission permanent after the settlement money runs its course.

The result is a palpable shift in power. While it’s not close to matching the firepower of a government agency legal department or a polluter’s white shoe legal team, the presence of the the Legal Services effort in town means North Texas residents now have access to an extraordinary network of legal help they didn’t have just a few months ago. 

And if our own organizational history tells us anything, it’s that a determined critical mass can make a huge difference against much larger and more powerful opponent.

Tulane graduate Matthew Miller is the Legal Service’s Project’s point person in DFW. His email is: millerm@lanwt.org

Don’t be shy. Use your imagination. It doesn’t have have to be a lawsuit. It can be as simple as a Open Records Act request, or sitting in on a meeting with officials. They want to be our legal counsel. Let’s make effective use of this new tool.

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Anti-Litter Group “Keep America Beautiful” Teams-Up with Dow and Hefty to Burn Plastic Bags Full of Plastic Garbage in Cement Kilns 

And They Want To Do It Here…

 

We’ve been warning you for a while that garbage burning was coming to North Texas one way or another.

What we didn’t anticipate was that “Keep America Beautiful” would bring it.

That’s right. The same group that gave you Oscar “Iron Eyes” Cody crying over litter is now prepared to make your own eyes water and sting from the air pollution it wants to encourage by burning municipal solid waste, especially “hard-to-recycle” plastics.

Touting bright orange “energy bags” as a quick and easy alternative to throwing those plastics away, a news release issued by the Keep America Beautiful folks, your friends at Dow Chemical, and Reynolds, the makers of “Hefty” trash bags, claims they’re “a convenient way to collect plastic materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill and offers a platform to promote positive behaviors to prevent this material from being wasted.”

What they don’t tout as much is their alternative to throwing these plastics into a landfill – throwing them into a furnace.

As long as cement kilns need a high-temperature flame to make their product, they have large energy costs. Typically, 30% or more of the costs of running a cement plant is in buying the flammable materials necessary to keep that flame lit.


History has taught us that cement kiln operators will burn anything, including the kitchen sink, if they think it will help reduce those high fuel costs.

Kiln flames in Texas used to be powered by natural gas exclusively. Then it was coal. Then it was hazardous waste and coal. Then industrial wastes. And now municipal solid wastes. In bright orange plastic bags.

Cement plants don’t have to pay for the wastes, now termed “fuel,” for regulatory loophole purposes. In fact, because it’s now a “fuel,” they often get the waste for free or even get paid to burn it. It becomes a new center of profit in the company besides making cement.  Maybe even more important. In the 1990’s, there were plenty of rumors about how the TXI cement plant in Midlothian would burn a lot of hazardous waste they got paid a handsome fee to take, but not have much cement product to show for it.

While garbage burning cement kilns have been on the rise in the developing world, the practice hasn’t caught on in the U.S.

Dow’s and Keep America Beautiful’s friendly neighborhood “Energy bags” are a way to jump start it.

This is already happening in Omaha, where 8,500 homes have filled 13,000 “Hefty Energy Bags”  since the program’s launch in October. That’s resulted in more than 13,000 pounds of plastics being burned in a near-by Ash Grove cement kiln. They’re so excited about burning plastics at Keep America Beautiful that they’re not only endorsing the practice, they want to bring it to a cement kiln near you.

At a news conference to announce the offering of cash money grants to local communities who wanted to try the option, they unveiled a contiguous states map of the US where they’d like to see the “energy bag” concept implemented. The approximately 50 locations on the map identified by a red (not orange?) star are almost all sites adjacent to large cement plants – including Midlothian, immediately south of the Dallas and Tarrant Counties line, and home of the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the nation. 

Local candidates for eager participation in the project include TXI, the cement plant that burned hazardous waste by the thousands of tons from 1987 to 2008, Holcim, which has sought permits to burn carpet scraps and shingles, and Ash Grove, the same operator as the one burning Omaha’s plastic bags now.


 

BURNING PLASTIC IS BAD FOR PUBLIC HEALTH AND PUBLIC POLICY

1. It replaces real recycling with burning.

Once you have a hungry garbage burner, you have to keep feeding it with more and more garbage, decreasing the market for real recycling.

This is already happening with tires. There are good tire recycling programs that can’t stay afloat because local governments have promised the local cement kilns a certain volume every year. 

2. It gives an incentive to the plastics industry keep to just making plastics that you can’t recycle.

Burning plastic garbage is like a relief valve on the growing piles of  “hard to recycle” plastics that industry is producing. Just throw it in a bag and send it to the kiln. Out of sight, out of mind. There’s no question it reduces the percentage of plastics going to landfill…only to increase the percentage of plastic going into your lungs. 

The real answer is to reduce and quit producing those “hard-to-recycle” plastics, not giving them a cheap way to get out of doing so.

3. Burning plastic produces lots of toxic air pollution – and all of DFW is downwind of Midlothian

Burning plastics produces toxic air pollution, a percentage of which escapes the smokestack and ends up in the air you breathe, the soil in your garden, and the food you eat and drink. Specifically, burning plastic creates lots of Dioxins and Furans – the same ingredients that made Agent Orange so toxic. The same poisons that made the State of Missouri evacuate the town of Times Beach in 1983.

Burning plastic also releases metals into the air, like cadmium and lead.

Other chemicals released while burning plastics include benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have both been shown to cause cancer. If plastic film or containers are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances, those will also be released into the air. If plastics are burned with other materials, whole new toxic chemicals may be created from the interaction of the different substances.

But wait! Don’t you want to divert more garbage from going to landfills?    

Yes you do, but by eliminating, reducing and recycling the garbage – not taking a match to it.

Landfills are nasty things. They’re big and smelly and they leak. Sometimes they leak and contaminate ground and surface water.  But these days you usually can trace the plume of those leaks and contain them before they get in drinking water.

On the other hand, once a piece of dioxin-contaminated soot is shot through a smokestack into the atmosphere, you have no idea where it’s going. You’re turning the whole sky into a landfill, full of solid and gaseous residues of refuse. What you didn’t want to drink, you’re now breathing. That’s the opposite of progress.


 

Taking a look at the Board of Directors for Keep America Beautiful, it’s no wonder they have a soft spot in their heart for large plastics manufacturers. They have not one, but two members from DOW, who, we are sure, thought this was a splendid idea. 

Howard Ungerleider is Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of Dow, and Greg Jozwiak is the Business President for the Elastomers and Electrical and Telecommunications businesses for the company. Prior to assuming his current role, he served as North America Commercial Vice President for the Packaging & Specialty Plastics business. Hmmmm.

But wait, there’s more! KAB has a board guaranteed to offend just about everyone. Not content with two Dow executives, it also has two Nestle Corporation members, a representative of Waste Management Inc., McDonalds, Keurig, Anheuser-Busch, and Phillip Morrisyes, that Phillip Morris. 

“PEOPLE START POLLUTION. PEOPLE CAN STOP IT.”

Those are the words, spoken in a deep baritone by William “Cannon” Conrad, that ended that famous 1971 Keep America Beautiful commercial in honor of Earth Day. They ring as true now as then.

And so, people, we’re asking you to take action to discourage this kind of BAD IDEA from ever coming-up at a Keep America Beautiful board meeting again – send an email to their new Chair, Helen Lowman.

Ms. Lowman is a former FEMA and Peace Corps executive in the Obama Administration. She’s from Texas, worked at TCEQ, and graduated from Austin College…. So maybe messages from her fellow Texans will have more of an impact. 


TAKE ACTION:

 

TELL KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL’s NEW CHAIR YOU DON’T WANT TO BREATHE TOXIC AIR POLLUTION FORM BURNING PLASTICS

SEND AN EMAIL WITH JUST TWO CLICKS

 

And if you want to leave a public message for the group too, here’s the group’s FaceBook site.

 


 

Other citizens groups, including some national alliances and networks are gearing up to take on this latest proof that all wastes, no matter how toxic, roll downhill to cement kilns eventually.

Meanwhile, Downwinders is taking the lead and beginning the push back we hope buries this project in the bright orange trash heap of history. Join us in not just saying “No,” but “Hell No.” Send that email now and then find two other people that will do the same. Thanks.

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And Now a Word From NOT our Sponsor

by jim on July 15, 2017

A note of explanation: There are two meetings next week in DFW concerning the large and complicated Volkswagen legal settlement over the company’s lying about the air pollution its diesel vehicles emit. Each state, as well as about 20 counties in Texas, are looking to score millions for various reasons and programs.

The two DFW meetings are sponsored by Public Citizen/Texas. We love Public Citizen and when they asked us to co-sponsor these meetings, we reflexively signed-up, even without knowing the details. There are efforts around the country to use this money to electrify school and city bus systems and challenge the status quo in interesting unconventional ways that might not be possible without large wads of cash.

But…what we didn’t know at the time we agreed to be co-sponsors was that the meeting is really a larger effort by something called the Texas Clean Air Working Group – an official statewide organization of local county governments working with other officials and businesses  – to solicit comments…and most likely, direct the money to their priorities.

As a result, the North Texas Council of Governments is the major local coordinating entity for the Working Group. The COG will be presenting its version of a “DFW air quality update” and helping to coordinate responses. We did not know this until last Thursday, when we asked for details of who was doing what presentations.

This is problematic for Downwinders at Risk on a couple of fronts.

For one thing, NTCOG is one of the reasons DFW is STILL in violation of the Clean Air Act after 26 years. They have a perpetually overly optimistic perspective. They have a close relationship with TCEQ because they get so many grants from them, and they frequently side with the State on air quality issues. They see air pollution only thru the prism of federal transportation dollars at risk over our “non-attainment: status – not public health. In 2015 citizens had to raise money to do the DFW air computer modeling that neither TCEQ nor COG would do. You aren’t going to get a very realistic picture of DFW air quality, or the need to do more about it, from a COG presentation.

Secondly, the preferred use of the VW settlement money by many of these local governments and NTCOG is either expansion or replacement of their own natural gas fleets, or supplementing existing state programs the state legislature has refused to adequately fund, like the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP). In effect the goal of most of the members of the Working Group is to reinforce the status quo, not change it. 

Because of these reasons, we’ve asked to be taken off the list of co-sponsors. We don’t feel comfortable with our name being used to promote a more rose-color than-real picture of DFW air pollution. or natural gas as the solution to that not-as-bad-as-it looks problem.

The suggestions made at these meetings will be channeled through the NTCOG, who has already given the state a quote for the amount of money it wants and a list of what it wants to spend it on. There is no citizens lobby being organized separately to argue for different priorities.

Looming over all of this is the fact that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and/or the Governor’s office determines where the state’s part of the settlement goes. So don’t expect much. In fact, Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General is suing over the settlement, specifically trying to eliminate the $2 billion set-aside for “zero-emissions” vehicle development as “unconstitutional.” 

Paxton is also suing to get 20 Texas counties, including almost all the major urban areas, to drop their own VW suits. Why would the counties want that money? Because they don’t trust the state to spend it on improving air quality. Dallas County Commissioners Court sent the state the same message this last month when it voted to stop collecting the $6 inspection fee the state is supposed to be reimbursing to local governments for air quality programs, but instead is just sitting in the general revenue pile to cover-up cuts in other programs.

So even while local governments in Texas are already lobbying hard to get their share of money from Austin, Austin is trying to make their pool of money smaller and eliminate zero emissions vehicle funding all together. Cross-purposes? Yep. But that’s Texas government in 2017.

If the counties win their separate lawsuit and money, there’ll be a much better chance for citizens to influence those local choices one Commissioners Court at a time than to try and steer the entire COG or state in the right direction. That’s your best chance to make something different happen and we’ll certainly be trying to keep track of how at least the North Texas counties use their possible winnings.

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Air pollution kills thousands of Americans every year, even at levels far below the current legal limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s the conclusion of the largest study of its kind ever done, performed by the Harvard School of Public Health and published last Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. It comes only a month after the Trump Administration signaled a willingness to roll back those current limits.

Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population,” has six authors headed up by well-known Epidemiologist Joel Schwartz, of the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers could find no sign of a “safe level” of exposure to either Ozone, aka Smog, or Particulate Matter 2.5, aka Soot at a microscopic level.

For every 1 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) reduction in Particulate Matter pollution, 12,000 lives were saved annually. For every 1 ppb of ozone reduction, 1,900 deaths were prevented.

Previous studies have concluded the same thing, but this new one stands out for a variety of reasons:

Size: The study followed over 61 million American seniors in the lower 48 contiguous states, representing 97% of all Americans 65 or older, for 13 consecutive years, 2000 to 2012, totaling 420 million “person-years” of follow-up and analysis.

Accuracy: Researchers developed an entirely new computer model to do the study, combining on-the ground air-monitoring data and satellite-based measurements to estimate pollution levels across the continental U.S at a resolution of 1-square-kilometer. Most current air computer models, including the ones used to predict DFW smog levels, run at a level of 5 to 10 kilometers square.

Telescoping in at the local level gave the authors the ability to estimate the levels of smog and ozone level exposures to seniors by Zip Code.

Scope: Unlike previous studies, this one’s ability to get down to the community level meant it could look at rural areas never included before. It’s size also “allowed for unprecedented accuracy in the estimation of risks among racial minorities and disadvantaged sub-groups.”

Men, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and lower-income seniors all faced increased risk of death from exposure to Particulate Matter. Black seniors were three times more likely to die from PM exposure as the senior population as a whole.

Since the Clean Air Act (still) requires the EPA to set air quality standards that “protect sensitive populations,” a number of Environmental Justice issues, and lawsuits, might arise from the study’s findings.

Extremely Low Levels of Pollution: With Particulate Matter, the study saw a significant increase in the risk of death rise when seniors were exposed to as little as 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³), the lowest level measured. The current EPA standard for PM exposure is 12 µg/m³. Ozone levels as low as 30 parts per billion, also the lowest measured, increased the risk of death as well. The current standard is 75 ppb, with a planned phase-in to a 70 ppb level approved by the Obama Administration in 2015 now seriously in doubt.

Seniors’ chances of dying decreased every time PM levels were decreased. However, in a strange indicator of just how harmful lower levels of pollution are, their chances of dying decreased more when those PM levels decreased BELOW the current standard of 12 µg/m³. That is, more lives were saved by cutting PM levels back from 12 to 5 µg/m³ than from say, 17 to 12 µg/m³.

PM and ozone both are primarily caused by combustion – whether it’s from engines in cars and trucks, furnaces in power plants and cement kilns, or diesels running gas and oil pipeline compressors or locomotives.

DFW’s current annual average for ozone is 80 ppb with a new 2017 average due after ozone season is completed in October. Our annual

DFW annual PM levels have averaged anywhere from 8 to almost 12 but we’ve gone over the 12 µg/m³ annual standard a number of days every year. In this 2013 study both Fort Worth and Dallas had almost 80 days above the national annual standard.

Despite its impressive size and scope, the study gives only a partial view of the public heath damage done by air pollution.

 It only looks at the impacts on those 65 and older. Left out of its analysis are children, whose lungs are more sensitive because they’re not fully developed, and everyone under 65 with COPD, asthma, or other existing respiratory/cardiovascular conditions that would be exacerbated by bad air.

It also leaves out any impact short of death. This is especially important when it comes to PM pollution, which has now been linked to a number of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Dementia, and Autism, as well as to infertility and immune system damage. Ozone exposure can cause strokes, non-fatal heart attacks, and asthma emergencies. None of these potentially disabling results that fall short of dying are included in the damage assessment of this new study.

At a time when the current EPA is seeking every opportunity to roll back, cut back and turn back, this study is a large, unprecedented reminder that the current standards themselves are not protecting public health. Not even close.

Citizens must begin to fight for their lungs by reducing the exposure levels across the board, no matter the regulatory status of the pollutant, or compliance of the source. There is no safe level of industrial crap to breathe.

That means more than anti-idling zones at schools.

California has a recommended buffer zone of 500 to 1000 feet from major freeway corridors for new schools. Dallas -Forth Worth municipalities should expand this idea to daycare centers, parks and senior centers, and solidify it into policy instead of just recommendation.

Mitigation measures along those corridor using recycled water walls to “rain” down the particulate matter from traffic, or retrofitting sophisticated new air filters in homes and apartments for citizens are also needed to help those who cannot simply move away from the problem yet.

Portable monitors should be bought and distributed to help identify local PM hotspots and catch bad actors or work to lower levels of pollution. The DFW Air Research Consortium’s regional grid of sensors could be used to track PM plumes in real time.

It’s clear we’ll get no help from Austin or Washington with these efforts. Indeed, progress will be made despite them. If we have a TCEQ and  EPA only interested in pollution promotion, we must fight for more pollution protection ourselves in the places where we live. 

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Downwinders’s “Evenings of Science and Socializing”
Concludes with SRO Crowd in Denton 
 

We’re pretty sure it was the first time Cambridge-trained UTD Physicist Dr. David Lary had presented in a bar.

The occasion was opening night of Downwinders’ “Evenings of Science and Socializing” at Bryan Street Tavern, in a dark back room that came complete with fog machine, disco ball, and a too-close juke box.

But Dr. Lary is nothing if not persistent. He’s applied for one grant after another in trying to fund his dream of a regional grid of hundreds or thousands of air monitoring sensors. He was told not to even bother applying for a prestigious National Science Foundation grant. That would be the same grant  he and his consortium of colleges, cities, and citizens groups are now in the running for. That kind of persistence is why he’s an honorary Downwinder. 

And so, like the trooper he is, Dr. Lary pushed through all the distractions and pitched his plan to an audience of about a dozen and half, including wayward bar patrons who stumbled onto the exhibit and stuffed $5 dollar bills into the donation jar.

Four nights later it was Dr. David Sterling of the UNT Health Science Center explaining how his school’s partnering with the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods gave birth to the design of the portal used by the public to access the monitoring information. His talk drew about two dozen citizens to the Ginger Man pub, including many that had been directly involved in the focus groups he had sponsored over the past five years.

And two nights after that, Dr. Lary and UNTHSC Environmental Health doctoral candidate Leslie Allsop showed up at the Greenhouse in Denton with a Standing Room Only crowd of at least 40-50 folks, plus a few latecomers who were turned away.

Some of the audience questions were the same at every meeting. How much do the sensors cost? How do we get one or more of them? Some were particular to the location or audience being addressed, like why is Denton always the “worst-performing monitor” in North Texas? Answer: location, location, location.

All of these meetings were the first time the general public had been invited to look at the technology and plans of the DFW Air Research Consortium, (DFW ARC) the less-than-year old group that’s gaining momentum in its quest to use high tech solutions to decades-old problems. Downwinders has been instrumental in establishing and administering the group. It includes the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, the School Districts of those cities plus Richardson and the Dallas County Community College system, TCU, UTA, UNT and UTD, plus Livable Arlington and Mansfield Gas Well Awareness.

News of the National Science  Foundation grant the Consortium  applied for should be coming any day now. Considering the competition, it would be quite incredible if the Consortium won. It would generate much needed publicity and increase our chances for getting other grants. But regardless, the work that went into the NSF grant has produced a template for the Consortium to apply to other foundations and individuals to grow the same regional grid of sensors. The work won’t stop if the NSF money doesn’t come through.

Proof of that are two on-going projects of the Consortium and its members that are already up and running.

The “10-Schools” project at UTD is one where a select number of schools across the Metromess will be paired with Particulate Matter and Ozone monitors in the first attempt to sketch out the frame of a regional grid system. Selection of the schools is being weighed right now. At every meeting there was a suggestion from citizens for this or that school that should be included based on its proximity to a large pollution source, or high absentee rates. It will be tough to narrow all those suggestions down to ten.

In the Fall, the project will be distributing the monitors, being assembled now at Dr. Lary’s lab at UTD. They’ll come with a video camera, a micro meteorology unit, and the pollution sensors themselves. Students will be able to use the monitors as a tool in classes. Neighborhoods will be able to use the information to better protect themselves. It will be the beginning of building a regional grid that identifies and tracks air pollution much better than the state or EPA does now. 

Then there’s Downwinder’s own “Wise County Ozone Project,” that will use the two brand new portable ozone monitors we just bought to begin recording smog levels in the one and only county in the “DFW Non-Attainment Area” that doesn’t have any.  We have at least one location secured for a stationary monitor, but we need some additional assistance. To pull this off, we need:

 Carpenters that can help us assemble a couple of 12-13 foot wooden platforms that will house the monitors.

Solar expertise and panels to help power the monitors.

Electrical Engineers that can help us hard wire the monitors to those panels and back-up batteries.

IT experts who can help us with connectivity issues.

If you or someone you know could be of help in any of these categories, please write us at Info@downwindersatrisk@gmail.com or call us at 469-608-1972. 

What these two projects prove is the technology featured in all three of our recent events is here now and being used. We don’t have to wait. We just have to organize ourselves to make effective use of it.  Help us do that. With your expertise if you have it.  With your time if you can spare any. With a contribution if you can.

There are many things you may feel powerless to change right now but this is a “bricks and mortar” change on the ground that can take place over the next few years and promises to deliver a challenge to both Austin and DC. Become a part of it.

Thanks to Dr. Lary, Dr. Sterling and Ms. Allsop for donating their time and taking on the challenge of bringing science to the public..and pubs. Thanks to our co-sponsors: The Dallas Innovation Alliance, the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, and the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. And thanks to everyone who showed up and made these events more useful to citizens. Onward thru the Smog.

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“An Evening of Science and Socializing”

Monday, June 22nd

 7- 9 pm 

 The Ginger Man

3715 Camp Bowie

 

Featured Guest: Dr. David Sterling, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology,
University of North Texas Health Science Center

Co-Sponsored by the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods

In 2013, researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center were curious about how local residents perceived information concerning the air they were breathing.
At that point DFW had been in violation of the Clean Air Act for smog for 22 years. Now it’s 26.

They approached the leadership of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, an umbrella organization of 350 neighborhood associations, about establishing a series of focus groups on the issue. The League agreed.

Those focus groups have provided us with the most thorough knowledge about community attitudes toward air quality in DFW that we’ve ever had, and directly influenced the bottom-up design of a new high-tech sensor network for air quality.

Leading those focus groups were UNTHSC Professor Dr. David Sterling and Doctoral candidate Leslie Allsop. Dr. Sterling is our featured guest tonight in Fort Worth at The Ginger Man for our second “Evening of Science and Socializing.” Ms. Allsop will be at our third and last event in Denton with Dr. David Lary on Wednesday night.

Residents in Sterling and Alsopp’s neighborhood focus groups voiced a high level of concern regarding air pollution and what they saw as the sources of it, including vehicles, fracking, and cement plants.

Participants also expressed a severe distrust of current information. They didn’t see the information available through government and media sources as being relevant to their neighborhood, or adequate to address their questions about specific emission sources.

Specifically:

• Participant’s perceptions of air quality was overwhelmingly negative, and available information was seen as being biased or unreliable.

• Within the socio-ecologic model, the primary impacts of air quality were perceived as greatest at the individual/neighborhood level.

• The ability to influence air quality at the individual/neighborhood level were perceived as negligible.

• Influencers were seen as residing at the policy and community level, but limited benefit at individual/neighborhood levels were perceived to occur.

Recognize any of these reactions? Concerned, but feeling powerless to affect the status quo.

How do you overcome this attitude? You build your own air quality monitoring network. One that’s independent of the government. One that citizens help design. One that allows you to feed information into it, as well as get much better information from it.

That’s the alternative system the DFW Air Research Consortium, including the UNTHSC researchers, is constructing from scratch.

Besides the disbursement of small e-sensors over the entire region that combine to give you a “weather map” of air pollution in real-time, one of the most distinct features of the Consortium’s new system is a digital dashboard that can collect the information a resident inputs into it.

Say you’re having a bad air day. Your eyes are watering. You have breathing problems. You check those boxes on the dashboard. The next time those conditions are forming, the dashboard will warn you. That’s the micro level.

But it will also take note of everyone else’s symptoms that were entered as well. If lots of people were also having a bad air day, it will tell you. And if people are experiencing health effects at certain levels, you’ll be able to see that in a very direct correlation. In this way citizens themselves are their own epidemiologists, with the possibility of establishing symptoms at levels of exposure to pollutants not yet linked in the literature. That’s the meta level.

All of this interactivity between user and app is traceable back to the UNTHSC’s focus groups starting four year ago. Fort Worth residents are responsible for helping to design the software to be paired with the Consortium’s sensor hardware.

Tonight in Fort Worth, UNTHSC’s Dr. Sterling gives an update about where his research has taken him and Ms. Allsop, including being in the running for a $3 million National Science Foundation grant with the rest of the Air Research Consortium. The competition includes the Argonne National Laboratory.

Libby Willis, President of the League of Neighborhoods when the research started will be there as well representing the residents who are responsible for so much of the direction of the current Project.

Besides the larger NSF grant awaiting a decision, two active citizen sensor projects already going on will also be discussed: Downwinders’ own Wise County Ozone Project and a grant that will allow the pairing of 10 sensors with ten DFW schools. 

You don’t have to wait until 2018 to resist the anti-environmental agenda so in vogue in Austin and Washington. You can help build an alternative now.

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Our local “environmental paper of record”  DFW GreenSource has a piece up about the DFW Air Research Consortium’s plan for a local 21st Century air monitoring network that quotes UNT Health Science Center researcher Leslie Allsopp and Downwinders’ Chair Tamera Bounds.

Meanwhile the Texas Observer just put up an article about Downwinders’ Wise County Ozone Project.

Both of these citizen science efforts, plus others, will be covered in each of the three “Evenings of Science and Socializing” we have coming up over the next week, beginning at 7 pm tomorrow night at the Bryan Street Tavern  in Old East Dallas. The Dallas Innovation Alliance is the Co-Sponsor, and they have their own sensor pilot project in the West end to brag about. Y’all come.

 

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In case you missed it, last Thursday the Bluestone company pulled its permit request for a new fracking waste Injection well that was going to be sited on the western shores of Lake Arlington.

Congratulations to Liveable Arlington and everyone else who contributed to this victory. It’s always great when you can stop a bad idea in its tracks, but to stop this one, with the current Powers-That-Be, is quite remarkable.

Bluestone’s application had united a broad spectrum of allies for a Barnett Shale fight – residents, local fractivists, municipalities, and water quality groups. Fort Worth had banned such wells years prior to the passage of notorious HB40, but Bluestone acted like that ban didn’t matter. Arlington objected over its drinking water source being imperiled by the well. Bluestone shrugged its shoulders.

Here was the first challenge to the uneasy truce that settled over the state between home rule cities and Austin after HB40 took effect. And it came not from an aspiring Denton trying to protect its citizens, but from industry. And it wasn’t targeting an upstart city, but the town that industry hailed as a model of gas regulation only two years ago when HB40 passed.

Thousands of letters opposing the permit were sent in to the Railroad Commission. An army of lawyers had been hired by Forth Worth and Arlington. It became a point of contention when RRC Commissioner Ryan Sitton visited from Austin in April to attend a Stop Six community meeting and Earth Day Texas. Momentum was with the opposition as it headed into a September hearing, already postponed twice. Bluestone was, seemingly, one injection well too far: the poster boy for overreach by an industry swelled with avarice.

Which makes its sudden absence a jolt to the system. On the one hand it’s good to know that in the current political climate there’s SOMETHING industry does that goes too far, even for the Texas “bidness-friendly” regulatory establishment.

On the other, it takes the air out of the largest wave of opposition to a gas patch permit in a very long time and brings us back to the truce frozen in place in when HB40 passed. Everyone is settling back into the stifled status quo, where technology, problems, and profits can advance with time, but local regulations are forever stuck in 2015.

All that energy into opposing Bluestone, only to arrive back where we started.

Which is why now, when citizens just won a major victory,  is not the time to take our foot off the gas. It’s actually the time to set the stage for a fight in Austin in 2019. 

Bluestone’s permit application proves cities must have more protection than HB40 provides. It’s still a poster boy for overreach. But so are other fights. On the same day the news was announced about Bluestone’s withdrawal, the owners of a proposed concrete crushing plant that Fort Worth Eastsiders fought off last year turned back up and filed for another try. Even though city zoning prohibits the facility from the location it wants near city parks and a school.

Statewide, there’s a growing backlash to Austin’s attempt to take away any and all vestiges of traditional Texas home rule local control.  What started with protecting the gas industry has now swept up everything from trees to immigration and many Texas citizens, even conservative ones, are aghast at the result.

Environmentalists and fracktivists need to take advantage of this shift in the swing of the pendulum. In 2017 all of our efforts to clean-up the gas industry begin and end at the local level, where office holders must live with the results of their decisions side-by-side with their constituents.  And yet HB40 makes any local advancement impossible. To get anywhere, to move off dead center, that law must be amended, or rescinded.

That is a multi-year, statewide effort that has to begin now if it’s to arrive in Austin in January 2019 with any impact.

To pull that off the movement will have to get over its aversion to coordinating regionally across city limits and be more proactive. So far, the fights in the Barnett have been city-by city, with no overarching alliances. Less coordination has meant less power. All one has to do is look at the anemic responses to HB40 in this year’s legislature to see how weak this strategy has made the movement.

But some hope could arrive in Austin in January 2019 in the form of an organized coalition of the self-interested promoting good-old fashioned local control, working with the victors of what could be a November 2018 mid-term “wave” election that might even reshape the Texas Legislature.

Who will be the architects of that strategy? Certainly not any of the larger national environmental groups, who’ve written Texas off and only want to collet money here, not spend it. It will probably have to be home grown with the assist of new groups like the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions that are linking-up threats to local control across the country.

It feels good for citizens to win one. And it would be nice if we could rest a while now and enjoy the victory, because they are so few and far between.

But sinking back into inaction only guarantees that another Bluestone will be showing up. If not in your backyard, then someone else’s. Now that we’ve established where the line in the sand is, it’s time to move the line forward. 

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      Only three months into the 2017 “ozone,” or smog, season, DFW has already recorded air pollution levels high enough to guarantee the region will remain in violation of the Clean Air Act for the 26th year in a row.

The bad news? So far, we’ve had a pretty mild kick-off to “ozone season.” Most of our worst ozone alert days have occurred on weekends on when winds were shifting.

But a couple of typical episodes in early May and June were enough to put local monitors in trouble, including the regional pacesetter at Denton Airport, to make sure that we’ll be above the current 75 parts per billion EPA standard. Only mid-way through June, Denton’s three year running average is at 78. That number can only go up as Summer wears on. 

According to the the Texas Commission in Environmental Quality’s currently proposed DFW clean air plan, all monitors were supposed to be averaging 75 ppb or below. 

But the Commission was never serious about that goal. For the second time since 2011, TCEQ offered up a plan that did absolutely nothing to bring smog levels down. No new controls on large sources like coal plants, cement kilns or gas compressors. No new transportation initiatives. Nothing. And nothing is what happened. And the difference between before and after the plan? Nothing. The region is still in “non-attainment” with the Clean Air Act.

Now, you might think that qualifies as a complete and utter failure as an anti-smog plan. And you’d be right. By way of common sense and the English language. But in the “Alice in Smogland” world of EPA-TCEQ agency air plan interaction and doublespeak, this State of Texas do-nothing plan has not yet failed. Bureaucratically it cannot….yet. Because it hasn’t even been approved by the EPA.

The State’s plan is still parked at Region 6 headquarters in Dallas. Why? Who knows. Pre-Trump and pre-2017 comments from EPA staff indicated it would be rejected in part or whole by now. Downwinders, other citizens groups, and elected officials were working on that assumption, trying hard to get EPA to substitute a federal plan for the state’s. The election changed all that for us, and it obviously changed the pace of decision-making at EPA.

Given that it’s already failed, one would have to make a pretty good case for EPA to approve it, but again, this is a not a process always grounded in the latest facts. Now wedded to an administration that treats facts as hostile witnesses, things at EPA could get bizarre – and into court quickly.

What makes the State’s apathy worse is that EPA is letting the state get away with not providing a new plan for a current standard (even though its’ still violating it), while a new, lower standard is being (maybe) implemented over the next ….five to eight years.

But because the cut-off for violating metro areas to submit plans for the new standard was 81 ppb and DFW was at 80 last year, DFW was also given a pass by EPA to turn in a plan for the new 70 ppb standard.

So, after seeing a cycle of a plan every 3- 5 years since 1991, there will be no more anti-smog plans submitted on behalf of DFW – not for the current standard  and not for the new standard. Nada. DFW won’t have to turn in a plan until well into the next decade, and then, only after it’s endangered public health by failing to meet the 70 ppb standard for three years. Of course, given our progress the last 6-7 years, it’s very possible DFW will still be violating the “old” standard.

It’s also very possible there won’t be a new 70 ppb standard.  The Trump Administration has already signaled a possible roll back in EPA’s support for it.  Last Tuesday, the agency gave states another year to draw non-attainment boundaries. Most had already done so with no complaints. A year from now it wouldn’t be surprising to be hearing of another delay in implementation. There’s more than one way to kill a public health standard.

That makes this last failed DFW anti smog plan an bigger failure, and another chance to remind yourselves that elections have consequences, right down to the air you’re forced to breathe.

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Get Me To the Geeks

by jim on June 8, 2017

Come See How Radical The Future Really Is

3 Evenings of Exploring One of the Most Exciting Collaborations between Scientists and Citizens in the Nation while their grant is under consideration at the National Science Foundation

 

A consortium of North Texas universities, municipalities, and citizen groups, including Downwinders at Risk, is laying the foundation for a revolutionary grassroots high-tech approach to air quality monitoring that will render the current top-down system obsolete.

This new consortium proposes to build a dense grid of small, inexpensive air sensors that anyone can access for real-time air quality information. It’s currently in the running for a $3 million National Science Foundation grant for two local pilot projects that will do just that. It also has two other projects involving the distribution of e-sensors in DFW already in-progress. One of these is our very own Wise County Ozone Project. 

It’s hard to overestimate how much of a game-changer this bottom-up approach to monitoring air pollution can become once citizens exploit its tools. Residents will be their own clean air watchdogs, asthma patients will have a huge heads-up, industrial plumes can be tracked in real time across the Metromess. Many of the ways this new effort will be most useful haven’t even been invented yet.

That’s why we’re bringing the good news of this new consortium to you in three public events.

Not only are we laying out the concept as it was presented to the National Science Foundation, but we’ll have some of the consortium’s leading researchers at each event to field your questions, and displays of some of the new generation of e-sensor air monitors being used.

Whether you’re a asthma suffer, clean air activist, science geek, or researcher, you’ll be amazed and intrigued by the policy and public health implications of the consortium’s vision.

This is an opportunity to be inspired.

An unprecedented alliance is coming together in your own backyard.

Plug-in and make change happen.

 


Dallas

Thursday, June 22

7-9 pm

Bryan Street Tavern

4315 Bryan Street 

 

 SPECIAL GUEST:

 Dr. David Lary                                      University of Texas at Dallas
                                    

Dr. Lary is the DFW Air Research Consortium’s leading expert on environmental sensors. He’s the founding Director for Multi-Scale Intelligent Integrated Interactive Sensing Center for Space Science at UTD. He has extensive experience with both stationary sensors and use on mobile platforms, including drones. 


Fort Worth 

Monday  June 26th                    

7-9 PM

The Ginger Man                          

3716 Camp Bowie Blvd

 

SPECIAL GUEST:

Dr. David Sterling  
University of North Texas
Health Science Center

Dr. Sterling has more than 30 years experience as a public health investigator. Much of his research has focused on environmental exposures in low-income communities. Dr. Sterling’s current research centers on asthma management in a school environment, and assessing how communities perceive and react to air quality issues. He’s worked extensively with the Ft. Worth League of Neighborhoods in identifying resident concerns and needs in reading and using air quality data. 

Co-Sponsored by the Forth Worth League of Neighborhoods


Denton

Wednesday, June 28th

The Greenhouse

600 North Locust 

 

 

Double Feature for the Host City of the
Worst Smog Monitor in the Region

Leslie Allsop MSN, MPH UNT Health Science Center

Ms. Allsop is a doctoral student at UNT’s Health Science Center and has worked for years with skeptical North Texas citizens groups to build community acceptance and effectively use the data provided by a new system of sensor air monitoring. 

Dr. David Lary
University of Texas @ Dallas

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College of Constructive Hell-Raising

Class of 2017 Graduation Ceremony 

8-9 pm 

Gulf Coast Room, Meadows Conference Center

2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas

Reception at Bryan Street Tavern beginning at 9:15 pm or so

 

Despite their similar backgrounds, upbringings, and generations of living in the same city, it took the established Dallas families of Michelle McAdam and Clarice Criss almost 100 years, and Downwinders at Risk, to get to know one another.

Even though the two women had the same proper white gloves-and-pearls Dallas grandmothers, the same bourgeois background, even the same debutante “dip,” their families didn’t socialize. Until January of this year, they had never met, or even heard of one another.

Which is really hard to believe when you see them together now. They behave more like sisters than recent acquaintances. At least sorority sisters. Which they kind of are – only from different chapters.

Michelle is an SMU coed from one of the most established and respected families in White Dallas. Clarice is the granddaughter of the founder of Dallas’ oldest Black-owned newspaper. They had pretty much the same upbringing. Only all the people at Michelle’s milestone events were white and all the ones at Clarice’s were black.

And so, after almost 100 years, what did it take to bring these mirror images of Dallas High Society together under one roof? Natural disaster? Lawsuits? Business dealings? No….A class on how to be bigger Pains-In-The-Butts to the Powers-That-Be: The College of Constructive Hell-Raising.

Michelle and Clarice have practically been inseparable since comparing notes at an informal after-class social hour in January. They attend events together. They’ve introduced their families to one another. They go shopping. They’re plotting local political strategy. All because these wayward granddaughters of their respective aristocracies decided to take a five-month class that promised to teach them to be more effective troublemakers.

Each was already primed. Michelle does front line refugee work as part of the International Rescue Committee. She notes: “Granny had plans for me to marry a nice Harvard graduate before becoming a housewife with 2.5 kids in Preston Hollow, but I was always more attracted to the misfits who weren’t afraid to forge their own paths, ask questions and challenge the status-quo.”

You should probably know “Granny” is 92 year-old Ruth Sharp Altshuler, who, as one of Dallas’ leading philanthropists has met a pope, and more than a couple of presidents, much less served on the SMU Board of Directors. She established the Women’s Foundation.  She was hand-picked by Henry Wade to serve as Dallas County’s first female grand juror…to hear the indictment of Jack Ruby.

But she’s also the grandmother who told Michelle, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

“I think Clarice and I were drawn to the class for this reason. We believe we have been given the knowledge, experience, and connections to be a force for positive change in our community.”

Meanwhile Clarice is not exactly following the Deb path to success either. She’s up to her elbows in South Dallas urban agriculture and self-sufficiency projects. Her great uncle was the late William Blair Jr., founder of The Elite News, the oldest black-owned newspaper in North Texas. She admits her family is “Black Royalty.” She signed-up for the College because she wants her community to be taken more seriously by its elected representatives. “I won’t stand by and not hold people accountable.”

As to why they’ve hit it off as instant companions, Michelle says “We both have a warm, friendly, humorous nature. I can also relate to her unfiltered commentary in public! She isn’t afraid to provide her opinion and neither am I.”

To watch this just-like-me-but-still-unlikely pairing joust and joke with each other on their way to becoming BFFs is just one of the great stories emerging from the first class of the College of Constructive Hell-Raising. There’re at least 13 others – one for each student who took the leap of faith and signed-up for the first semester of organizer training ever offered to DFW residents.

The class has been meeting since January, not only officially, but afterwards in the same informal confab at a local tavern where Michelle and Clarice began discovering their similar roots. In the process, the would-be community organizers have formed a very real sense of community with their peers. Some bonds seem so natural, it’s like they were there are along. Others are based on similar interests about issues or campaigns.

And all of them will be in the spotlight  tomorrow when they graduate with their degrees in hell-raising in our first graduation ceremony. Instead of a single commencement speaker, we decided to have 15.

We’re going to close the door to the Meadows Conference Center Gulf Coast Room at 8 pm, travel forward in time 20 years and let this first class tell us how the lessons they learned at the College have impacted their lives since they graduated.

Don’t worry, we’re bringing everyone back for the reception at the Bryan Street Tavern starting a little after 9.

If you feel overwhelmed with the cacophony of bad and worse news. If you feel frustrated at the stifling of progress taking place. If you’re pessimistic about the future. We have a remedy. Come listen to these “First 15” talk about their plans and plots tomorrow night.

Don’t be afraid of the future – come meet it firsthand. We promise you’ll be inspired. 

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At one point in mid-May, four out of eight days were “ozone alert days.” While only one of those was critically high, the wave of higher levels was enough to push the regional average over the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) standard for 2017. It will be the 26th year in a row the DFW area has been out of compliance with the Clean Air Act’s ozone (smog) standard. 

The worse news of course is that the current standard is obsolete and in the process of being lowered. The Obama EPA adopted a new 70 ppb ,and scientists advising the EPA said it really should be closer to 60-65 ppb, when many people begin noticing health effects.

To date, the Hinton Street monitor on I-35 just north of downtown Dallas and the Dallas North Site near the LBJ Freeway have the highest eight-hour averages each at 80 ppb from May 6th. Hinton saw a 1-hour reading as high as 90 ppb while North Dallas topped out at 88.

But the key to DFW’s smoggy regulatory status is the Denton monitor because it’s historically been the worst performing among the 20 North Texas monitors the state operates. It took until the May 15th episode for the wind to blow in its direction long enough to raise its numbers and to seal DFW’s ozone fate under the law for another year. It now sits at 77, barely over the current standard….but that number will rise as the summer, and ozone season progresses.

Although May saw a big wave of ozone, the region was lucky that three out of four alert days were on the weekend and shifting winds. Had the May 6th episode occurred on a Monday instead of Saturday, the numbers probably would have been significantly higher.

Forecasters have said it will be a hotter summer than last year. If so, that often portends some awful smog as well.

That’s too bad, because prospects for ANY kind of DFW clean air plan, much less a more effective one went down the tubes with the election results. There is no effective oversight by the EPA. There are no new air pollution controls being required of any major sources. We’re now completely dependent on the coattails of existing regulations, the marketplace, and whatever we can build from scratch at the local level to get us out of our dirty air rut. 

Meanwhile, every so slowly, the Trump Administration is signaling it would really like to roll back that new 70 ppb smog standard to the old 75 one. It recently asked for, and got, a delay in a lawsuit filed by industry to challenge EPA’s decision. Almost every commentator believes this is in anticipation of the Trump EPA giving up the fight. But while that might be a short term victory for polluters, the law behind establishing these ozone standards makes it less likely to be a permanent one.

Nevertheless, these are more reasons for us to be about the business of becoming more self-reliant in addressing DFW’s chronic air pollution problems.

As always, every time there’s an ozone alert day, we’ll be tracking the smog on our FB site, at least as best we can when there’s a two-and-a-half-hour lag time between sample and posting of the sample on the state’s handful of monitors.

And …as you might have noticed, every time there’s a DFW ozone alert, you’ll also get a nudge from Downwinders at Risk to contribute some money to the cause of cleaner air.

Some of you may have felt assaulted by these appeals when things were getting smoggy and then smoggier in Mid-May. We apologize for the inconvenience, but not for the appeal. Ozone Alert Days are the most obvious signs of a failed state policy to provide safe and legal air to 7 million people. If we’re going to continue to be effective on your behalf, we need all the help we can get. Thanks.

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In a milestone for the local consortium Downwinders At Risk is working with to bring DFW air quality monitoring into the high-tech era, its $3 million request to the National Science Foundation for funding two pilot projects got a call-back last week. 

Led by University of Texas at Dallas high tech guru Dr. David Lary, the group includes scientists and researchers from the University of North Texas and UNT’s Health Science Center, Texas Christian University, the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth Plano and Richardson, the Fort Worth Independent School System, the Dallas County Community College District, the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, Livable Arlington, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness, and Downwinders at Risk. 

There were said to be over 200 applicants applying for the NSF’s “Smart and Connected Cities” grant when the deadline passed about a month and a half ago. The NSF isn’t revealing how many of them got a follow-up “Virtual Site Tour” of the proposal, but the number isn’t believed to be very large. Rumor has it that one of the main competitors to the DFW proposal is Argonne National Laboratories, a 70-year old gigantic research industrial complex born out the Manhattan Project.

That a group that wasn’t even in business a year ago is now in the running with such a Colossus in a very competitive nationwide talent contest for valuable and scarce research dollars is pretty remarkable on its own. What makes it even more remarkable is that staff at the NSF itself actively discouraged the DFW project from even applying, because they didn’t think the proposal could compete with the scientific heavies already in the race.

But what the NSF staff underestimated was how much the DFW project challenges and changes the status quo from the bottom up. It’s hard to imagine a proposal that has the potential to deliver more benefits to more people. 

At the heart of the vision for the DFW grant proposal is the idea of an independent network of hundreds, then thousand of small e-sensors placed in a thought-out grid across the entire urban core of the Metromess. These sensors would be located every kilometer or even half-kilometer, block by block, down major thoroughfares, by schools and parks and daycare centers, by facilities that pollute.

So instead of relying on a handful of clunky large official EPA/TCEQ monitors scattered over an area the size of a couple of New England states, you know have data from just outside your own door. 

Moreover these sensors would be able to deliver information about air quality in real time to an app on your phone or computer. Contrast this with the two-and-a-half hour wait between sampling and result you see on the official monitor websites now.

But wait, there’s more. As part of the app, you’re made aware of local conditions via an avatar or virtual human, who you can design yourself from a number of attributes. It will present you a list of health symptoms the poor air quality might trigger. But this avatar is also interactive through the network “portal.” You can upload your own symptoms when you’re having a bad air day. The software will look for correlations – wind direction and speed, concentrations of pollutants and allergens in the air, etc. and alert you when days are shaping up to be like the ones that give you trouble.

In the same way many of us now check the weather forecasts, pollen counts, and ozone alerts to know if we need to take extra care with our lungs, you can use this network and software to fine tune that investigation to a degree never before possible.

Want to be a neighborhood air pollution watch cop? Use the software to track down hotspots you didn’t even know existed, or enforce the permits issued to local facilities. The network of sensors allows you to track plumes in real time as they cross county and city boundaries. 

This is all administered by an independent group of researchers, colleges, scientists, municipalities, and public health specialists, not the State of Texas or EPA. And it’s all made possible by the same leaps in technology behind smart phones, smart cars, and even smart refrigerators: the ability to cram larger and larger tech capacities into smaller microchips and sell them for less money.

While the aim is to grow a huge network of sensors, the submitted NSF grant proposal calls for establishing two separate smaller pilot project grids of 40 sensors a piece – one grid in Southeast Fort Worth and one in Central Plano. 

As the proposal explained, the differences in these two communities represent different ways to use the sensor network.

SE Fort Worth is a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood with documented high childhood asthma rates, high absentee rates in its schools, and for much of the year lies downwind from the Midlothian cement plants.

There the network can demonstrate how it can become a household health consulting tool, as well as empower neighborhood groups to address micro and macro-level air quality problems. Downwinders at Risk’s role in SE Fort Worth is yoking the high tech sensor network with traditional community organizing. In effect, we’re creating a new citizens tool for cleaner air and a brand new guide on to how to use it to get results. 

In Plano, city officials want to use the sensor network to help traffic flow and minimize vehicular air pollution. Smart technology is already being installed in the city’s infrastructure, so it’s not a huge leap to imagine installing their 40 sensors on a major roadway for 40 blocks in a row to see how traffic light timing and other variables can be adjusted to minimize internal combustion transportation pollution. 

When you begin to realize that the system can not only report conditions, but learn from them and apply that learning to being able to guide not only your own personal health, but the public health policy for millions, you realize how transformational this technology can become. It has the potential to be the most important tool in fighting for cleaner air that we’ve ever seen – because it works from the bottom up and puts the power to change things in the hands of individuals instead of agencies. 

We don’t always have to fight the bad guys head on – we can go around them. We can replace them. That’s what makes this network so sublimely subversive. It just leap frogs over an obsolete, regressive status quo.

We should know by the end of next month whether the participants in last week’s call were persuasive enough to convince the NSF to fund the DFW project. Regardless of that decision, the same consortium of colleges, cities and citizens groups is committed to building-out their own 21st-Century air quality monitoring network.

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This year, every time
the State of Texas
declares an
“Ozone Action Day”
We want you
to take action
by donating as little
as $5 bucks to Downwinders 

_______________________________________

MONDAY, MAY 15th – The last three days in a row, and the last 4 out of 8 days have been Ozone Action Days in DFW. 

Yesterday’s wind speed kept things to a duller roar, but the smog was just bad enough to push up our regional average and make sure that we’ll spend another year in violation of the Clean Air Act, no matter what else happens this summer.

That’s right, it’s only May but the smog on Sunday was bad enough for long enough in Denton yesterday to make sure the 3-year average went over the current 75 ppb standard to 77.

And we still have June, July, August and September to go.

Downwinders at Risk has been working for cleaner air here in DFW since 1994. No group has been more successful in winning pollution cuts from local industry. But these victories don’t come easy or cheap.

We’re entirely local. We depend on local donations to support the only full-time staff devoted to improving North Texas air quality.

We started this new fundraising campaign because Ozone Action Days are the most obvious signs of failure of the state’s do-nothing approach to DFW’s chronic smog problem. 

When smog gets bad now, there’s something you can do that’s guaranteed to make them mad in Austin: making sure Downwinders sticks around and continues to advocate for your lungs.

We appreciate your support and promise we’ll keep fighting hard for safe and cleaner air.

To keep track of DFW ozone on Ozone Action days please visit our Facebook page


To make the Powers That Be angry, please 
donate to help Downwinders become an even more effective advocate for safe and legal air. 

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The Texas Commission on Environmental Health has issued an ozone alert for today, Saturday May 13th. It issued one for last Saturday as well. It has issued one for tomorrow too. 

We’re not going to tell you to ride a bike or share a ride. That’s great stuff to do, but we need deep, long-term, systematic change to breathe safe and legal air.

One new control device on a local cement kiln, coal plant or compressor can reduce the equivalent pollution of thousands and thousands of vehicles the moment it’s turned on. But the political process to implement those controls remains hostage to industry and forces hostile to any air quality regulations, no matter how beneficial to public health.

In 2017, Downwinders at Risk is still the only group devoted to seeking that deep, long-term, systematic change in DFW air quality…24/7 365 days a year. After 23 years, we’re still here, still 100% local, and still committed to our mission, funding the only full-time staff working to get safe and legal air for you.

You can’t vote against anyone today. You can’t go to a hearing and testify. But if you’re mad about or just tired of having to still worry about the air you’re breathing, you can give a little bit of money to the local clean air group every time there’s a bad air day. Like today….

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