Move along. Nothing to be alarmed about. We asked the manager.

Back on December 11th, there was a serious fire at the “Sunshine Recycling” facility in West Dallas, aka, another West Dallas scrap and junk yard. Beginning at around 3 in the afternoon and continuing to burn overnight, it produced huge clouds of dark thick smoke that covered whole blocks and could be seen for miles on its way toward Irving. There were still “hotspots” requiring attention the morning after, 20 or more hours after ignition.

A Dallas Fire Department spokesperson reported cars, appliances and “other scrap” were burning with intensity.

So if you lived in the neighborhood, you might have been relieved to see your local city council member post on his FaceBook page that “The Fire Dept has conducted testing and there is no hazardous materials burning.”

You might have been reassured to hear the authorities claim, and news media report, that a Dallas Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team was on site.  

But none of that was true. 

After a lengthy Open Records Act request by Downwinders, many phone calls and emails, we can now piece together what really happened. The Dallas Fire Department never showed up with its Hazardous Mat unit. It never did any air monitoring at the fire. It did no testing. 

Instead, at some point that afternoon, as she looked out her window at FountainPlace downtown and saw the fire’s plume wafting only a few miles away, Superfund Division Chief Susan Webster at the Regional EPA office called the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s regional office in Fort Worth and asked the state to send someone over to monitor the fire’s smoke. Whether she did this knowing the Dallas Fire Department had already decided not to do any air monitoring itself, or whether is was double-checking is not known. Ms. Webster wouldn’t return our phone calls.

Was seeing this plume from her downtown office building what caused EPA’s Susan Webster to request TCEQ monitoring?

At around 4:30 pm Dallas Fire Department dispatch notes a call from “PCAQ” asking whether the City’s own Haz Mat team was on site and whether any air monitoring was going on. Ted Padgett, a Chief with the DFD, says that “PQAC” was really the “TCEQ” but was misunderstood on the phone.

Told no testing was going on, the TCEQ regional office in Fort Worth begins to assemble a site team and get their own monitoring equipment packed to go – hand held portable monitors.

This is the TCEQ side of that call: “TCEQ staff confirmed, via media coverage and contact with the Dallas Office of Emergency Management (OEM), that a fire was occurring at a scrap metal yard in Dallas. However, staff could not confirm the status of the fire nor what specifically was burning.” Emergency response in the Information Age.

The TCEQ monitoring team shows up in West Dallas at 6 pm – three hours after the fire has started. 

Once there, the TCEQ monitoring team  has the capabilities to monitor two pollutants: Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Chemicals, or VOCs. They took one background sample away from the fire and four samples of about five minutes apiece downwind of the smoke.

The team says it doesn’t find significant VOCs in the air, but of course it’s possible those kinds of highly flammable materials like Benzene (via gas lines and tanks in the burning cars) had already been burned off.  The category of VOCs is broad and covers a lot of sins, but it’s not the definitive list of “toxic chemicals” by a long shot. We know burning plastic will produce lots more Dioxins and Furans – the stuff that made Agent Orange so deadly. We know PM pollution can carry lots of bits of metals and other chemicals on them. 

We know this because there was a very similar, if slightly more bureaucratic 21-year continuous incineration of car parts, plastics, used oil, dashboards, and scrap at the TXI cement plant in Midlothian, just south of the Tarrant/Dallas County lines. When you look at the before and after volumes of weird laboratory-induced chemical names you can’t really pronounce coming out of the stacks at tests controlled by the company, there’s no question burning junk fills the air full of junk too.

But it you don’t look for it, you won’t find it.

TCEQ was only looking for two kinds of pollutants that night, so it didn’t find anything else. It didn’t even bother to collect PM samples for “chemical characterization”  – that is, determine what, if any, toxic baggage like lead or arsenic the PM particles were allowing to hitch a ride on them during the fire.  Without such samples, it’s impossible to say the plume was not “toxic” in the “Really-Bad-For-You,” traditional regulatory meaning of that term.

Then there’s what the TCEQ team did find.

TCEQ recorded only four PM samples the whole evening. Half were alarmingly high: 113 ppb near the intersection of Singleton and Westmoreland, over three miles away, and 180 ppb near the intersection of Chalk Hill Road and Singleton between one and two miles from the fire.

Two other samples, one taken way north along Bernal And Hammerly, and  further south down Westmoreland at Canyon Bluff  showed “background” levels of PM at 14 ppb and 18 ppb respectively.

The EPA annual standard for PM exposure is 12 ppb, the daily standard is 35 ppb. The results from two of the four samples TCEQ took were three and five times the daily standard. That’s “toxic” in the “Science-Says-That-Stuff-Will-Kill-You” way.

The TCEQ inspectors left after only about an hour. No other monitoring took place for the duration of the fire, which was still going the next morning. So out of approximately 20 hours the incident lasted, only one was monitored.

TCEQ did note that the wind was out of the West at 10 mph and that “Potentially Impacted Receptors” included residences and businesses between Highway 12 and I-30. 

There’s no record of the Dallas Fire Department, or anyone at Dallas City Hall, asking for the TCEQ’s monitoring results and TCEQ never sent them to anyone there. It wasn’t until Downwinders requested the results through an Open Records Request that any member of the public had seen the full record of what was done.

But some West Dallas residents complained about health effects from the fire to State Senator Royce West. One email the Senator got related how the fire had caused “my throat to become scratchy, coughing …. The smoke was so thick it hovered over all of West Dallas. The smell was horrific, very strong & lingering. You could smell it from loop 12 & all over West Dallas & I’m sure the lingering included other local surrounding areas in our city. The fire department said by it being cold outside, it causes the materials burning & the smoke in the air to continue to stay low where it affects us when breathing.

Senator West’s office wrote a letter to the TCEQ regional office asking about what they’d found when they did their air monitoring. Here’s the reply he got:

 “Smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. While the main pollutant of concern in smoke is the particulate matter, smoke may also contain other pollutants that are dependent on the product that is burnt, the moisture content of the product, and the fire temperature. Particles from smoke are often very small in size and have diameters that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller (PM 2.5). These particles are respiratory and eye irritants. Short-term exposures (hours-weeks) to these particles can cause headaches, respiratory (e.g., runny nose, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, and bronchitis) and eye irritation (e.g., burning eyes). However, these symptoms typically disappear quickly once the person gets out of the smoke. Exposures to high concentrations of these particles can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. While some people are more susceptible to the adverse health effects of smoke, particles from smoke can also cause respiratory symptoms, transient reductions in lung function and pulmonary inflammation in healthy adults. Children, older adults, and people with pre-existing heart or lung disease are more susceptible to lower levels of smoke than healthy people…(monitored) PM ranged from 0-180 ppb…..”

No mention of the scientific consensus that even short term exposure to low levels of PM can cause a host of permanent heath injuries, including brain and learning disorders, immune damage, and life-long respiratory ailments.  No mention that fully half the samples taken by TCEQ were over 100 ppb and exceeded the 24-hour EPA standard for that specific pollutant.  In fact, TCEQ says, all of your problems should disappear once you get out of the smoke – or your house, if the smoke from the toxic fire down the street is making it unlivable.

There’s an email from a TCEQ Special Assistant to the Deputy Director in Austin that asks:  “…is there any way to put the highlighted PM detection in context….is this the level we would normally expect to find in smoke; at what level would we take action, can hand-held equipment quantify, etc?

She didn’t get a reply to those questions that we saw. Probably because no one at the Austin or Fort Worth TCEQ offices really knew the answers, or didn’t want to write them down and send them to a State Senator.

TCEQ was able to tell the Senator West that, despite plastics and metals and other materials on-site capable of producing toxic smoke, there were “no hazardous chemicals” on-site or involved in the fire.

How did it know? TCEQ inspectors asked the manager of the facility. There was no independent inspection. 

And that, Dear Citizens, is how you’re protected by potentially toxic fires in Dallas, Texas. Feel safer?

Homes along Singleton probably exposed to some of the worst fallout of the December 11th fire.

Along with the high PM levels our PM Committee found in Joppa, this incident is another case study of why Dallas should have its own 24/7/365 dense network of air quality monitors – monitors that will be there when such a fire starts, as well as when it’s finally extinguished. Monitors who won’t make the value judgement about when the A Team should be called out. Because along with all the other questions this response poses you have to ask yourself if something like this happened in Preston Hollow or Uptown, would the Dallas Fire Department have still shown-up without its hazardous materials crew in tow?

This incident is Exhibit A why Dallas should also be incorporating public health into emergency responses. Why doesn’t the Fire Department have access to its own toxicologist or public health expert who could tell them what to sample for, where to sample, and whether the fire really posed any concern to neighbors or not? Why isn’t the automatic response to a fire like this to send out its own hazardous materials team instead of outsourcing it to TCEQ, 30 minutes away in Fort Worth?

December 11th allows us to peak behind the the modern post 9/11 facades of “Public Safety” and “Emergency Response” we all take for granted and see what a decrepit cynical reality is in charge of assuring us that “there’s no reason to be concerned.” That’s why we need a new reality.

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Downwinders PM Committee did the unthinkable this last week and monitored ambient air quality in the tiny Joppa community, where two proposed new concrete batch plants coming up for a Dallas City Council vote on Wednesday want to set-up shop.

This was unthinkable because despite months of controversy over the siting of yet more concrete batch plants in a predominantly-minority neighborhood already jammed with heavy industry nobody had thought of doing it before our team of SWAT Citizen Scientists showed-up.

Not the batch plant operators seeking approval of their permit requests.

Not the staff of the City of Dallas, who are recommending approval of those requests.

No…it was our all-volunteer “Soot Sisters” armed with their newly acquired fully-calibrated portable PM monitors who had the audacity to actually see what levels of pollution Joppa residents were breathing now – before the addition of any new sources of bad air.

After we got our results, we kind of understand why air monitoring was unthinkable to those other folks: because the air in Joppa is often unbreathable.

Since our monitors arrived late to the scene in Joppa, we’ve only been able to get snapshots of air quality before the scheduled council vote in the 28th. Two hours on this day, another two on that day. The sample is very small, but it’s also very disturbing.

Joppa is already surrounded on three sides by heavy industry

First, they found significantly higher levels of ambient PM pollution in Joppa than was recorded by the only official EPA PM monitor in Dallas, located near Stemmons Freeway during the same time period, and higher than the levels the Committee found at various DART bus stops and routes they’ve also been monitoring as part of the new Green Streets bus electrification campaign

Levels in Joppa were as much as 30 to 50 % higher than the EPA monitor – even on a Sunday. Residents there are already breathing more PM pollution than residents in other parts of the city.

Secondly, if the Committee’s results were extrapolated over the course of a full year, these daily levels would add up to a violation of the EPA’s annual PM pollution standard. That is, if our findings are indicative of daily exposure, Joppa could already be exceeding the EPA standard and any additional PM pollution would only make matters worse.

You can read the entire short report on Joppa, Round one, prepared by Dr. Tate Barrett, our PM Science Director here: Joppa Report #1

Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen on a monitoring run in Joppa

Because there’s been no monitoring in Joppa until now, it’s possible the area has been in routine “non-attainment”of the EPA PM standard. It takes three years of annual averages above the standard, recorded at an officially designated  EPA monitor, to classify an area as non-attainment and qualify for new federal new controls. However, Dallas’ only official EPA PM monitor is nine miles north of Joppa near Stemmons Freeway and Mockingbird.

Study after study has shown how People of Color generally, and African-Americans specifically, are disproportionately exposed to, and harmed by, PM pollution. While Dallas’ one and only EPA-designated PM monitor could be accurately recording PM levels north of the Trinity River, it’s not reflecting the reality of residents in Joppa, West Dallas, Cadillac Heights, or Cedar Crest.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently concerning inequity of resources in Dallas. It’s not news that this inequity extends even to the very air residents breathe and how the current regulatory system ignores those differences. But our Joppa monitoring casts a new spotlight on that fact. No equal protection is possible unless you have equal access to official monitors which determine enforcement of the laws.

That’s why when we turned our first results over to District 7 Council Member Kevin Felder on Friday, we recommended the City  either consider moving Dallas’s sole EPA-designated PM monitor to Joppa, or pay for a second EPA-designated PM monitor to be located in Joppa, to begin recording data as soon as possible to determine if the area is indeed violating the EPA PM standard year-round.

These Joppa results also become another compelling example of why DFW needs its own local air quality monitoring network.  It’s ridiculous that there’s only one PM monitor for all of Dallas County’s 2. 5 million residents stretched out over 900 square miles. PM levels as low as 5 ppb

Downwinders has joined with local universities and governments in pursuing the establishment of a local air quality monitoring network that could place inexpensive year-round PM monitors throughout Dallas and North Texas with real time information accessible to the public by a simple phone app. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniels is expected to sponsor a resolution for the creation of such a network at the Commissioners Court in the coming weeks.

Dallas should follow. The City’s Office of Environmental Quality approves or disapproves of zoning changes like the ones being sought by the batch plants in Joppa without knowing what environmental burdens residents are already carrying. Even though they have the ability and capacity to do real time monitoring of neighborhoods where new industry wants to expand or locate, the OEQ never does. Nor does it have a single toxicologist or public health expert on its staff who’d want to see that kind of information before passing judgement on a zoning request. Instead it’s headed up by a lawyer and is mostly concerned about not making any definitive statements about local environmental health problems or environmental justice issues at all. With all the house-cleaning at Dallas City Hall since a new city manager took control, the OEQ now looks to be one of the last repositories for Business As Usual thinking. That must change.

Downwinders PM Committee was back out in Joppa this last weekend for more rounds of air monitoring. Those results will be dowloaded and analyzed by Dr. Barrett and presented to the City Council on Wednesday by PM Committee member Misti O’Quinn. Stay tuned.

 

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Meet Our New Scientist

by jim on March 11, 2018

Downwinders is proud to announce UNT’s own Dr. Tate Barrett as our new PM Science Director.

Dr. Barrett will be coordinating all of our PM sampling in the field using our portable monitors. That includes helping to identify potential targets, training citizens on how to use the monitors, and distilling the results into citizen-friendly summaries.

Dr. Barrett is an Environmental Science graduate of Baylor University, where he also got his PhD from The Institute for Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. He’s currently a post-doctoral Research Associate at UNT and has written at least five peer-reviewed, journal-published research paper on particulate matter and black carbon.

Dr. Barrett joins fellow UNT researcher Kari Northheim, our Wise County Ozone Project Director, in bringing scientific methodology and rigor to our grassroots air monitoring efforts.

Stay tuned as Downwinders and Dr. Barrett begin to assemble a citizen workshop on how to use the portable monitors. Graduates of these workshops will be cleared to use the equipment on projects approved by him.

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Downwinders at Risk’s PM Committee wasted no time in taking our new portable Particulate Matter  monitors out in the field.

Less than two weeks after their arrival from New Zealand, Misti O’Quinn, Evelyn Mayo, Mandy Poland, Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen were using the devices to measure PM levels at DART bus stops and DART buses around Dallas this last weekend.

The group also conducted
an informal survey of DART riders on quality on air pollution concerns.

It was all part of a new effort to focus on PM pollution and public transit in preparation for this Wednesday’s combined meeting the the North Texas Transit Riders group. at GoodWork Co-working space, 1808 Good Latimer.

Bus riders are among those most heavily exposed to PM, both because of their exposure to traffic while waiting for a bus as well as the bus’ pollution itself.

Comparison and analysis of large “stationary” sources of PM pollution show that if DART bus pollution was coming out of a single smokestack, it would be the 10th largest source of PM pollution in North Texas.

Although the monitors’ PM sampling is in real time, the data collected has to be downloaded and logged by our new PM Science Director, Dr. Tate Barrett. There may be some results ready for Wednesday’s meeting.

 

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by jim on March 11, 2018

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Thanks to a grant from the Simmons Sisters Foundation, Downwinders is proud to announce we’ve purchased our first two portable Particulate Matter sensors for our No Safe Level Campaign against PM pollution.

They’ll be the only PM monitors of their kind in the region, and their arrival will inaugurate a new era in DFW citizen-empowered science.

The sensors are made by AEROQUAL, a New Zealand company, and you can’t find them on Amazon. They measure both PM 10 and PM 2.5 (microns) at the same time. Their sensor heads use laser and optical sensors to measure light scattered from particles passing through the laser beam. A built-in fan ensures a stable and precise flow of sample air to the sensor. They also compensate for humidity by way of an on-board humidity sensor.

Each comes with a long-life Lithium battery which allows for 24 hours of remote operation between charges. Recharging takes just 3 hours. The monitor can be plugged-in and left to run indefinitely. Besides displaying levels in real time, measurements can be stored on the device and downloaded later to a computer via the USB cable and bundled software.

They come factory-calibrated to European Union standards and are capable of being re-calibrated for side-by-side use with an EPA monitors, or any other local baseline.

These monitors have two parts – a base and a a detachable sensor head – making them even more useful. In the future Downwinders can buy other kinds of sensors from AEROQUAL to plug into the base and test for gaseous pollutants like Ozone, or Sulfur Dioxide. In all, 28 other sensors are available.

Before now you either had to buy $16,000 PM sensors that were fully calibrated or settle for much less reliable equipment. But the technology is moving so quickly and demand is scaling up so fast that a middle-income niche market for scientifically-rigorous instruments is beginning to provide opportunities to non-profit groups like Downwinders, and the public in general.

Along with these portable sensors, we’re also ordering stationary PM monitors as part of the regional network being established by UTD and others.

As a result of this influx of technology, Downwinders is creating a PM Project Science Director position to maintain the integrity of our research. The Science Director will be in charge of these monitors, training citizens on how to operate them, and overseeing their use in the field.

Our plans are to begin using the sensors in neighborhoods and suspected hot spots as soon as possible to help us fill out our PM Map of DFW. We want to be able to loan them out to those citizens who’ve gone through the training and have a problem they want to investigate. They’ll also be available for use during accidents, explosions, and fires.

We’re not letting state and EPA rollbacks stop us. We’re creating our own regional air monitoring network. Are you interested in joining? Stand by. We’re just getting started.

 

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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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