ROOT AND BRANCH 2019 Dec 5th-8th

by jim on November 11, 2018

3 Events to Make You a Better Activist

 

 

 

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Regulators have been paying too much attention to the smog produced by Texas’ polluting coal plants, and not enough to the Sulfur Dioxide soaked Particulate Matter they emit according to a new report published last month in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.

Rice University’s Daniel Cohan and his colleagues found residents downwind of coal plants would be far better off today had the state focused on cutting particle-forming sulfur dioxide emissions in addition to those that cause ozone.

“What I found eye-opening in this study is that most of the health damage is coming from particulate matter, but most of Texas’ focus on air pollution has been on ozone smog,” said Cohan. The problem is that even when particulate levels meet current standards, they are still health hazards.

“We know the higher the particulate matter levels, the more people die, both on a short-term correlation — when particulate matter levels are high one day, death rates are higher over the next few days — and also over long-term studies,” he said.

According to Cohen, “Particulate matter is the deadliest of all air pollutants, and it’s not just causing deaths in the way that you might think. It’s not only by respiratory diseases, but it’s also causing increases in rates of heart attacks and strokes. These particles are small enough to pass through the alveoli and enter the bloodstream. That lets them cause damage on all aspects of our bodily systems.”

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The question sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but it’s not: How many months does it take Dallas City Hall to respond to a simple Open Record request? Answer: we don’t know yet, we’re still waiting.

Back in July, you might remember we reported on the establishment of a regional clean air fund to fight coal plants a decade ago that still had over a half million dollars in it.

When we dug a little further, we got a response that the fund had been shut down and the money disbursed – despite the fact nobody could give us the details on how or why that happened, where the money went, and if any of it went to clean air work.

So we filed a Texas Open Records Act request to get any and all files on the fund. On July 16th. Governments have 10 days to respond and provide the files that aren’t attorney-client products. We have yet to get the paperwork we asked for from the City. What we have received is one after another email saying the response has been delayed…again. We’re now going on three months awaiting information for a fund that supposedly doesn’t even exist anymore. And this is after the city already received permission from the State Attorney General’s office to withhold certain files from us because they were “attorney product.” What is it about this fund and that half million dollars that the City of Dallas staff really don’t want their own residents to see?

Just as ridiculous is the city’s response to an Open Records Act request we filed to look at its files on TAMKO in August.

The huge asphalt shingles plant in Joppa had a long sting “upsets” and “accidents” between 2011 and 2015 that released over 7000 pounds of unaccounted for PM pollution. Those are TAMKO’s self-reported numbers and don’t even include fires when there was “100 Opacity” i.e., smoke.  We know this because Downwinders was able to access the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality files on TAMKO way back in the summer. We put in the same request to the State that we submitted to the City of Dallas. Believe it or not, TCEQ was much more responsive and cooperative than the City of Dallas, who we’re still waiting on to release their files on the plant. Two months and counting and still no substantive response. Shouldn’t a resident be able to make an appointment, go down to City Hall and look at the public files on a well-known polluter? So far, the City of Dallas says no.

Dallas City Hall has a notorious reputation for mishandling, losing, or otherwise being non-responsive to Open Records requests. They aren’t know as “citizen-friendly.” But these two cases seem extreme because the delay is all out of proportion to the files being requested – for a fund that was shut down and a polluter in South Dallas. It certainly appears that staff is going out of its way not to hand over anything of import, no matter if its attorney work product or not. One can only guess why that is.

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Only in the nonsensical world of EPA air quality regulation could the official regional average for DFW smog actually decrease despite the worst levels of DFW Ozone pollution in five years.

In 2018 a quarter of all North Texas official monitor sites recorded smog levels in the 90-95 ppb range for more than an hour.  2018 was the first time in two years that any DFW monitors have had 8-hour averages of 80 ppb or above, and the first time since 2013 since there been at least six. In fact, this year’s total number of 80-or-above monitors is almost equal to the total number from the last five years combined.

Nevertheless, the regional average for smog pollution that determines government action actually went down from 81 to 76 parts per billion.

How does that happen? Not without a lot of numerical manipulation. EPA’s formula for smog pollution classification  is a two part affair. First EPA only counts the highest 4th highest annual reading from each monitor in DFW. That means every monitor gets three “Mulligans” or “do-overs” before the results are eligible for regulatory use. Then EPA combines the last three year’s worth of those highest 4th highest readings to produce a rolling average. So that 2018 average is actually the results of the highest 4th highest reading from 2016, 2017, and 2018.

High readings from the summer of 2015 are rolling out of that three-year rolling average, while lower readings in ’16 and ’17 remain. While this year’s smog levels were higher, but not so extraordinarily high as to be able to counter the lower numbers making up the rest of the average.

But our smog was bad enough last year and this to once again make sure DFW is in “non-attainment” of the clean Air Act for the pollutant. For the umpteenth time in a row, we missed a deadline for meeting a Clean Air Act smog standard – this time it’s the 2008 75 ppb standard. If EPA follows its own protocol, that means DFW will be go from being “moderately” out of compliance to being in “Serious” non-compliance.

And please remember all of these numbers are based on only 20 smog monitors, half of which are located well-outside the DFW urban core, and none of which are located in Wise County, where Downwinders is doing the job of monitoring ozone pollution that the State and EPA refuse to do.

What are the consequences of this continuing violation of the Clean Air Act that imperils public health? Nada probably. At least while the Trump Administration holds office. In the past such classifications would have triggered a process leading up to some kind of official plan of action that, at least rhetorically, is aimed at correcting the 30-year old problem. But no one expects the State of Texas, or now the EPA, to take that responsibility seriously.

What you can expect is some official TCEQ spin about how it’s been successful in bringing down smog pollution levels. In fact, it was the wettest September on record that brought an abrupt end to what was shaping up to be an even worse smog year than it already was at the end of August. Historically, September is when DFW sees some of its worst bad air days. But not this year.

Accompanying the rise in smog pollution in 2018 was also a dramatic rise in the regional numbers for Particulate Matter (PM) pollution – the highest North Texas has seen since 2003.

After a long spell of annual peaks of between 24 and 28 migrograms per cubic meter of air, the 2018 average for highest daily readings among all sites has risen dramatically as of this month – to almost 40 µg/m3

Before this year, they’d only been four daily peaks above 40 µg/m3 over the last 15 years. In 2018  four out of 6 PM monitoring sties had registered daily readings averaging between 41 an 43 ppb as of October.

The EPA annual standard for PM pollution is 12 µg/m3. The 24 hour standard is 35 µg/m3.

As with smog, these readings are coming from a very small pool of monitors – in this case just six PM monitors scattered over an area only slightly smaller than Rhode Island.

Some of this might be blamed on the drought we we experiencing during the summer and increased dust circulation, but comparing it to 2011 when similar if not worse conditions were in play shows no similar bump then. Fewer coal plants blowing their plumes into DFW this year might lead you to think we were even due for a drop. Instead it’s as if someone turned the key on a couple more.  There’s no obvious reason why PM levels would have jumped so much in a single year.

What’s clear is that local governments are the last refuge for effective and new air pollution control measures. Until political leadership changes in Austin and/or Washington, there’s no expectation of any relief. In fact, every day sees new proposals from the State or EPA that will actually increase smog and PM pollution in DFW. This is why local city and county elections are just as important as state and national ones.

We’ll have to wait until the end of 2019 to see if this rise in pollution averages is a trend or blip, but there’s no question that smog and PM are taking their toll on public health in DFW. Study after study shows harms at levels of exposure well below these annual and daily averages that determine EPA regulations. In the real world, your lungs, heart, brain and immune system don’t seem to be able to distinguish between “safe” and “unsafe” levels of poison as defined by the government.

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Every year Downwinders at Risk takes a week off and sponsors a floating conference aimed at making North Texas organizers and activists better advocates.

This year’s Root and Branch Revue is again packed with star power and covers new ground. Here’s your first preview of what’s being offered.

Mark you calendars now. These events are for people exactly like you.

 

Wednesday/December 5th

Why Does Green Look So White in DFW?

A Discussion from the South Side of the River

 

7 to 9 pm

African American Museum in Fair Park     Dallas

FREE

Featuring:

Al Armendariz, Former EPA Regional Administrator

Cherelle Blazer, Sierra Club/Beyond Coal

Clarice Criss, Field Manager, Color of Change

…and others

 

Co-sponsor: Sierra Club/Beyond Coal

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Thursday/December 6th

Electric Glide Bus Pub Crawl

How Electric Buses Can Save Profits, People, and the Planet

 

6-8:30 pm

Start: The Green Door in the Farmers Market     Dallas

$25

Price Includes:

Custom Electric Glide Cocktails from The Green Door and Harwood Tavern

Pop-Up restaurant with food by Chef Graham Dodds

Presentation by E-bus manufacturer Proterra founder Don Hill

 

Co-sponsor: Climate 350

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Saturday/December 8th

1-Day University of Change

A Full Day of Workshops to Help You Become a Better Advocate

 

10 am to 5:00 pm

GoodWork Co-Working Space  1808 S. Good Latimer     Dallas

$25 Includes lunch and all these workshops….

“Mapping Injustice” with Robert “The Map” Mundinger

“Build Your Own Air Monitor” with Constant Marks

“Zoning 101” with Paul Cardin

“Investigative Research” with Brett Shipp

“Portable Air Monitor Training with the Downwinders PM Committee

“How to Stop a Batch Plant and Other ‘Standard’ Polluters” with David Frederick and Tamera Bounds

 

WITH MORE TO COME

 

 

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Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen on a monitoring run in Joppa

You’re Invited to Train on the Same Portable Monitors & Get Access to Our Monitor Lending Library…For FREE

CITIZEN SCIENCE TRAINING SESSION

SUNDAY OCTOBER 28th

1-3 pm

GOODWORK CO-WORKING SPACE

1808 S. GOOD-LATIMER

 

Let us know you’re coming: RSVP  downwindersatrisk@gmail.com

 

Downwinders is proud to announce that our precedent-setting use of portable PM monitors to help Joppa residents defeat two proposed batch plants earlier this year was selected by manufacturer Aeroqual as a case study showing how its new air pollution technology has made a positive difference in the world.

Joppa will join other examples from places like Tanzania, Iraq, India, and Peru on the Aeroqual website. It will be the only success story attributable to a citizens group as opposed to a government agency, university, or business.

“Timing is everything” is a cliche but in this case the banality is on point.

Aeroqual’s new 500 series hand held portable PM monitors had only become available in January of this year, at exactly the time Downwinders was looking for a device that was highly reliable but not prohibitively expensive. In offering the 500, New Zealand-based Aeroqual carved its own market niche and met our criteria like a glove – more reliable than the extremely cheap consumer sensors you can buy on Amazon and less expensive than similarly calibrated machines affordable only to universities, industry and government.

Because they were so new, we had to call Aeroqual in New Zealand to order them directly. We were their first US customers. Downwinders ordered two for deployment in our PM Pollution Prevention campaign. When they arrived in late February, they were the only ones being used between New Zealand and the US.

Since then, the company has made huge inroads into the US market, to the point of partnering with the EPA in Los Angles to establish a 100-monitor air network for Particulate Matter and smog pollution, and being considered for the monitor in the City of Dallas/Texas Nature Conservancy Breathe Easy study.

Downwinders’ original plan was to use the monitors to document PM levels along DART routes as research for our Green Streets bus electrification effort and set out for a couple of weeks doing nothing but measuring levels of PM inside and outside of buses.

We were still doing that when we got a call from the Joppa Freedman’s Township Association to request we turn our attention to their fight over two new batch plants.

Aeroqual’s portable machines provided the first, and so far only, air sampling in Joppa. They recorded significantly higher PM levels than the official EPA site some nine miles away. This was the same EPA site Dallas city staff was using to give Joppa the all-clear.  The fact that the Aeroqual monitors came factory-calibrated out of the box and were supervised in their use by a local atmospheric scientist enhanced their credibility.

Their results were widely publicized only days before the City Council vote and combined with opposition on the ground, contributed to the council vote against the batch plant permits. It was the first time in local history, and we’re pretty sure in Texas or even the country, that this new technology became a tool for citizens in a successful permitting battle. And that’s why we’re ending up as the first citizens group case study for Aeroqual. 

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: MAKE HISTORY

CITIZEN SCIENCE TRAINING SESSION

SUNDAY OCTOBER 28th    1-3 pm

GOODWORK CO-WORKING SPACE

1808 S. GOOD-LATIMER

Let us know you’re coming: RSVP  downwindersatrisk@gmail.com

This training session is a chance to become familiar with this new technology and work your way toward being able to check out these portable monitors on your own. No previous experience required. No math or engineering degrees necessary. If you can push buttons and read numbers, you can do this. It only takes two hours.

Along with first-timers, graduates from our first classes of Apprentice Citizen Scientists are invited back to take a field trip with our PM Committee and step-up to “Researcher” status. After one more outing, they’ll be given permission to check out the monitors for their own purposes or to help with our projects.

We’re entering a new era of Do-It-Yourself Environmental Protection. Learn how you can join it.

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Applications for Texas’ only “grassroots school for change”
now being accepted: CLICK HERE

Class begins January 15th.

 

Former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt will take what she’s learned over the last 20 years of public service and teach a lesson in “Real World Civics” as part of the third-year curriculum of The College of Constructive Hell-Raising.

At 33, Hunt was the youngest person ever elected to the Dallas City Council in 2005 and served eight years representing District 14. She’s best known for her lengthy and successful opposition to the Trinity Toll Road, as well as being a New Urbanism pioneer. She’ll use her unique insight taking on the Dallas Establishment to discuss the difference between what we’re often taught about how government should work versus how it actually does.

Hunt will join other well-known troublemakers as a Guest Lecturer at the College, including civil rights icons Peter Johnson, Patti Fink, and John Fullinwider, environmental justice legend Luis Sepulveda, well-known police brutality organizer Sara Mokuria, lifelong anti-nuclear and immigration movement stalwarts Mavis Belisle, Kim Batchelor, and Sister Patricia Ridgley, and Megan Green and Colette McCadden, the two toxic avengers who closed the last lead smelter in Texas.

Complete with crest and Latin motto (“Parva Cumulaverunt”), the College of Constructive Hell-Raising combines traditional community organizing principles with firsthand frontline accounts of local DFW social justice battles. It aims to teach activists of all kinds “to think like an organizer” and approach their fights more strategically. Described as “a school for grassroots change,” it’s the only course of its kind in Texas, and one of the few in nation. It’s a project of DFW-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk.

A growing list of College alumni hold positions at a variety of DFW social change groups, including Texas Campaign for the Environment, Color Of Change, Democratic Socialists of America, and Sierra Coal/Beyond Coal. Part of the mission of the College is to build a new support network for paid and volunteer social justice workers in DFW.

Applications for the 2019 class are being taken online on the Downwinders at Risk web site now through December 15th. Class begins on January 15th and ends May 21st. Classes meet at the Meadows Conference Center at 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. Tuition is $150 but early birders who sign-up in the next two months will only pay $90. Some scholarships are available. There’s a maximum enrollment of 20 students in the seminar-type course, so the interested are encouraged to apply early.

APPLY ONLINE HERE

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Vote for Us and Ours

by jim on September 26, 2018

CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THE GREENSOURCE AWARDS

Downwinder board member Evelyn Mayo for Coke Buchanan Volunteer of the Year

DFW Air Research Consortium for Environmental Science and Innovation

GoodWork Co-Working Space for Environmental Science and Innovation

The GreenSource DFW Leadership Awards are one of the only ways, and certainly the most popular way, the DFW environmental community recognizes accomplishments among its own ranks. They’re now in their seventh year and the end-of-the-year awards dinner where the winners are announced is the rare Big Tent event on the local green calendar.

There’s a nomination process, followed by a selection committee within Green Source staff, and then they open up the list of final nominees to a popular vote of sorts. We’re in the voting period now. And in this election, you can vote every 24 hours during the two-week voting period, ending September 30th. So you really can vote early and often…legally.

There are awards for green-writing journalists, green groups and green people, er activists. This year we’re lucky to have direct ties to three nominees and we hope you do vote for them often over the next three days.

Downwinders board member Eveyln Mayo is nominated for the Coke Buchanan Volunteer of the Year Award. This award goes to a person showing outstanding volunteer service to a green cause or organization.

We’ll let the text accompanying her GreenSource nomination speak for itself:

At 23, Evelyn Mayo may be one of the youngest environmental organizers in DFW, but she has the bearing of a veteran eco-warrior. Arriving in DFW fresh out of college only 14 months ago, she joined the board of Downwinders at Risk and has helped revitalize that group by leading it into new areas of program work and attracting a team of inspiring 20 and 30-something women to join her.

Evelyn has been the Chair of Downwinders’ Particulate Matter Campaign Committee since its creation last Fall. In that role, she’s helped raise the profile of a long-ignored pollutant.

She initiated and helped host community meetings on the dangers of PM. She’s a liaison between Downwinders and the North Texas Transit Riders to help better protect a population that’s routinely exposed to high levels of PM pollution.

She coordinated the deployment of Downwinders’ portable PM monitors in the Joppa neighborhood that revealed high levels of PM there when City staff was trying to reassure residents with the readings of an EPA monitor nine miles away.

Now she’s helping to assemble a “Justice for Joppa” support committee that can assist the neighborhood in addressing a long list of grievance and needed reforms. And if that weren’t enough, she’s also helping direct Downwinders’ “Green Streets” bus electrification campaign.

It was the portable air monitoring Evelyn coordinated on behalf of the Joppa community that sealed the fate of the two batch plants seeking permits to set-up shop there. Anyone attending the City Council meting in March when the plant permits were debated heard constant references to the dangers of PM – even by batch plant lobbyists themselves. That was Evelyn’s work. That citizen monitoring project has also given new impetus to the city of Dallas joining a regional air quality monitoring network, which would be about the most important local air quality development in a long while.

Evelyn has become a reliable bridge between communities of color and the local environmental scene. Not just in Joppa, but throughout DFW. She’s looked upon by both residents and activists as a hardworking honest broker for their concerns. In this capacity she’s been responsible for re-focusing Downwinders as an Environmental Justice advocacy group, and re-setting the environmental agenda in Dallas as a whole.”

And that’s why we want you to vote for Evy.

START YOUR VOTING HERE

Downwinders and its partners in the DFW Air Research Consortium are nominated for the Environmental Science and Innovation Award for building the North Texas Clean Air Network – the first local, independent regional air monitoring network in the state.

In nominating DFW ARC, GreenSource listed the advantages of having such a network in place:  “There are the impacts one can think of now and the ones we can’t imagine on this end of things. In the short term, monitors along a facility’s fence line might act like 24/7 environmental beat cops and discourage polluters from even thinking about shady discharges “at night, weekends and holidays” that would have been routine before. Plano proposed to use the network to help time traffic lights and find the pattern that most reduced vehicle pollution along major streets. The public and officials could track pollution levels in real time during accidents and fires, providing better evacuation routes and warnings. You can track work productivity, school absenteeism, ER asthma visits, heart attacks and strokes with pollution levels and then estimate how much economic cost there really is to “bad air days.” Neighborhoods can map their own air pollution burdens, showing that they’re already breathing higher levels of pollution than other parts of town.”

The organization of ARC itself is a model for collaboration among scientists, citizen groups, and local officials to harness technology for the public health. It’s been a very effective organization in a relatively short amount of time.

START YOUR VOTING HERE

Finally, Downwinders new home, the GoodWork Coworking Space south of Downtown Dallas has also been nominated for the Environmental Science and Innovation Award. GoodWork is the first coworking space in the nation focused on inclusive sustainability and wellness for entrepreneurs, non-profits and innovators, powered by the largest concentration of solar panels in Central Dallas (provided by Downwinders’ Sue Pope Fund). D Magazine called it the “superfood of coworking.”

What’s been really interesting to watch since we moved here in February is how many South Dallas entrepreneurs, non-profits and freelancers have found a home where they feel comfortable, forming networks and communities that weren’t available to them before because nothing like GoodWork was around to provide it. Many of them are grassroots disruptors of the status quo in their own areas of expertise just as Downwindes tries to be in air quality and social justice. You won’t meet your typical co-worker type and that suits us fine because we’re not your typical environmental group.

START YOUR VOTING HERE

We wish all the nominees luck, but these three maybe more so. See you at the awards dinner.

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L to R: Amanda Poland, Misti O’Quinn, Dr. Tate Barrett, James Orenstein, Temeckia Derrough, Candice Johnson, Evy Mayo, Jim Duncan, Kim Limberg, Liz Alexander, Miriam Mathews Fields and Cresanda Allen

In the middle of the wettest day in the wettest September DFW had ever recorded, the clouds parted and a dozen brave and curious souls turned out to go through the region’s first citizen science training for portable air monitoring.

Some were already clean air activists. Some were technology geeks. Some were people simply interested in having the ability to tell what’s in the air they’re breathing.

When they showed up to our GoodWork headquarters they got a tag team education on Particulate Matter pollution courtesy of a curriculum designed and presented by Downwinders board members and scientists. The information set-off lively discussions among residents of Joppa and West Dallas where PM problems are common. For others, the facts brought new awareness about this under-publicized but insidious pollutant.

But no doubt many thought the real fun started with the hands-on field training using Downwinders’ three Aeroqual 500 Portable PM monitors. Despite the forecast, there was actually no rain during either the morning or afternoon session and the future scientists got to go explore inside and out.

They recorded the dust explosion set off by simply sweeping the floor with a broom. They saw how a lit match changed the composition of the air in a room. They stood downwind from fog machines that were faux-smokestacks for the day and they measured the ambient air in Sunny South Dallas on Good-Latimer. They learned how to sync meteorological tools with the monitors and record the necessary information to make a sampling more useful. They asked questions, they got in arguments and at the end of it all, they got certified as an official Citizen Science Apprentices. They’ll now be able to go out with our PM team for supervised research runs and after two of those they’ll be able to check out monitors on their own through our monitor lending library.

Our PM Committee is already looking to host another training session on a weekend in late October and these will be reoccurring on a regular basis from here on out. Be the first one on your block.

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Council Member Kevin Felder welcomes participants to the Let Joppa Breathe meeting at GoodWork last Monday night.

Approximately 20 representatives from advocacy groups, non-profits, and neighborhoods gathered last Monday evening at GoodWork for the very first meeting of the “Let Joppa Breathe Alliance.” It was the first step in organizing a city wide effort to reverse over a century of racist zoning and land use planning in Dallas’ oldest Freedman’s community.

Besides Downwinders, there were members of Joppa Freeman’s Township Assocition, the South Central Civic League, the Inclusive Communities Project, Paul Quinn College, the NAACP, North West Texas Legal Aid, and Mia Carmen Theater company. As impressive as the breadth of support was, it was also the first time in memory that whites constituted a tiny fraction of attendance at a citywide Dallas environmental strategy meeting.

Rage Almighty, the spoken word artist who MC’d the May 22nd Joppa benefit was back to facilitate. District 7 Council Member Kevin Felder was also back to welcome participants and encourage the building of the broadest possible coalition to win victories.

On the agenda were updates from the community, including photographic evidence presented by JFTA’s Temeckia Derrough of continued dust and diesel pollution problems from the existing Martin Marietta batch plant operation. There are continuing rumors about the company coming back to request a second chance at permitting the two proposed batch plants that were denied by the city council in March.

There was also discussion about how the group can estimate the emissions from all the short-haul diesel locomotives going  back and forth in the Union Pacific switch yard that runs the length of the entire community.  Usually the engines that end up in a switch yard are already old and in need of maintenance – yard duty is seen a step away from retiring the locomotive. Their exhaust contains a very toxic form of PM called Carbon Black that’s more carcinogenic than your average PM pollution. Electrification of these locomotives would eliminate a significant source of PM pollution in Joppa.

Misti O’Quinn with Downwinders reported that the group and UTD were very close to reaching a deal to place the first air monitor in Joppa, with a location to be announced soon. Another ten have been ordered and will probably be ready to be installed by November.  The search is on for locations, with emphasis on getting front line readings close to batch plant, switch yard and the TAMKO shingles plant.

Plans are in the works to have a neighborhood enforcement workshop that includes the staff from City of Dallas Office of Environmental Quality, North West Texas Legal Aid attorneys and others advising residents how to be more effective in making complaints that can stick and lead to changes. Tentative scheduling has it penciled in for a date in later October or early November.

Participants scheduled the next Let Joppa Breathe Alliance meeting for 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, October 23rd at GoodWork Co-Working space, 1808 S. Good Latimer. All groups are invited to send a representative. This isn’t just an environmental issue. It’s a civil rights issue. The more groups we represent, the faster we can get needed change.

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Rebuking its own staff’s misinformation campaign, the Dallas City Council’s seven-member Quality of Life Committee voted unanimously at its Monday morning meeting to recommend joining the North Texas Clean Air Network.

But in an unusual move, staff requested and received an almost three-month delay in scheduling a full city council vote on endorsing the new local air monitoring system. It won’t be until December 5th when the entire council gets briefed on the Network, and December 12th when they actually vote on whether to join. That’s a very long gestation period for a measure that just passed in Committee 7-0.

Staff claimed they wanted the long pause because of what they said were questions about how the city would participate in the Network and what provisions were necessary to get access to monitor locations like….utility poles. Citizens might be forgiven for suspecting the real reason for the three-month delay is to give staff time to find some new “fatal flaw” in the network and scuttle the whole thing before it ever comes up for a vote. If one listened hard enough, you could hear the startled disbelief in staff’s comments when the yes vote came down, despite every outward sign pointing to that outcome.

When one considers there was a Dallas city staffer at just about every meeting that led up to the creation of the Network, that these meetings began over a year ago, and that this specific presentation and vote has been scheduled for the Council’s review since August, it’s really quite incredible that staff admits they’ve spent no time thinking about how to implement this proposed policy within the city limits. Maybe because they’ve spent so much time trying to shoot it down.

As late as the Friday before Monday’s vote staff was still at it, sending out a memo to Committee members downplaying the need for any regional network, conveying regulatory-correct but scientifically-misleading language about local Particulate Matter pollution levels, and writing one of the oddest sentences we’ve ever seen associated with air quality monitoring. In dismissing the formidable capabilities of the kind of low-cost high tech sensors the Clean Air Network will be using, Dallas Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata concluded, “These low-cost air sensors present new opportunities for uses beyond regulatory monitoring but are not yet able to provide direct measurements of real-time health impacts.

That’s because that’s not what air pollution sensors or monitors do. None of them. Nada. Zero. Not even the really big and expensive ones the City currently operates for the State and EPA. They can only measure what levels of PM pollution are in the air you’re breathing, not what cancers, birth defects, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes problems, IQ loss, dementia or other illnesses that PM Pollution are causing “in real time” in your body as you breathe it in. No such Star-Trek-like technology exists.

In the real world researchers take the PM measurements recorded by sensors and correlate them to rates of illness. It’s a branch of science called epidemiology. The staff memo manages to completely confuse two wildly different scientific methods in a stunning, head-shaking way. It’d be flat-earth funny if it wasn’t, you know, the official position of Dallas City staff on the subject. Then it just becomes embarrassing.

But whatever doubts about the Network staff tried to infect the council members with, they seemed to vanish once UTD Physics Professor Dr. David Lary and Downwinders’ Jim Schermbeck, representing the DFW Air Research Consortium, gave their 35-minute presentation on the Network.

A roomful of “Clean Air Now” button-wearing supporters also helped the cause considerably. Thanks to everyone who came on an early Monday morning to make sure the Committee did the right thing. Thanks also to everyone who sent in emails to the Committee via our prepared Citizen Action website feature.

That combination of grassroots support plus technical expertise is one of the things that’s so impressive about this bottom-up approach, and it paid off again in the Committee meeting. Schermbeck made the case for change, Lary gave the details of how to build that change, monitor by monitor.

D Magazine published an online piece Monday morning that provides a point-by-point rationale for why this Network is A Big Idea Whose Time Has Come. Basically Big, Expensive and Slow has been replaced with Small, Cheap and Fast and it’s democratizing air quality information. All of that was included in the Committee presentation, plus examples of how it could have made a difference in the real world during a past crisis like the Sunshine Recycling Fire of December last year in West Dallas.

Both Plano and Dallas County officials have already said they’re onboard with the Network and may act to ratify the founding documents in their jurisdiction before the scheduled December Dallas vote. By the end of the year a new 21st Century regional air monitoring system, driven by local expertise, controlled by local governments, and designed to promote public health could become a reality.

But citizens may still have to fight to see it happen. In an ironic twist, the same staff that has been opposing the idea of Dallas joining the Network is now in charge of writing the briefing paper for the Council to explain why it’s a good idea. Bets are already being taken on how well they succeed.

ARC’s Network presentation was only half of an interesting compare and contrast exercise looking at two local projects using air sensors in two very different ways that Chair Sandy Greyson had arranged for the Committee.

The other half was a presentation by the Texas Nature Conservancy outlining their city staff-supported “resiliency” (i.e. Rockefeller) project, the “Breathe Easy” study proposing to place a PM and ozone monitor for two years at nine DISD schools that already see high student asthma and absenteeism rates, all below Interstate 30. Breathe Easy has already started spending money and needed no vote…although it was the first time any Council Committee had been briefed on it.

The study was supposed to get started back in August with the beginning of the school year but the nine schools haven’t been announced yet and so no monitors have been installed. Since the 2018-19 academic year is designed to provide a “baseline” of student asthma health, the study has already missed its chance of getting any data during the worst summer for ozone pollution in five years. It could take another month or longer to name the schools and wire-up the monitors.  It’s uncertain how much this gap of missing information diminishes the value or definition of a baseline to which three specific intervention efforts are to be measured against beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.

Those intervention efforts include vehicle idling policies at or near schools, screens of vegetation between the street and school, and in-school asthma therapies.  The question being posed by the study is whether these intervention efforts have any impact on school-site pollution levels and therefore student asthma or absenteeism rates that can be measured.

There’s certainly no harm in doing this study, but… its about ten years behind the times and spends a lot of money to tell us what we already know.

For example, we know DFW children’s asthma levels are higher than the national average. In their presentation, the TNC uses the 2009 Cook’s Children’s Hospital study made infamous by Downwinders almost a decade ago.  That study contains the map showing a huge diagonal swath of childhood asthma running the length of Tarrant County that almost exactly syncs-up with the prevailing pollution plumes from the three Midlothian cement plants. Downwinders used that map time and again to prove the impact of the cement plants on downwind health during our Green Cement Campaign.

We know asthma is worse in minority communities. Many green groups were speaking out about this fact during the first wave of Environmental Justice activism during the 1990’s and have never stopped. What’s interesting is that TNC and the staff never ever talk about WHY this is a fact. It’s like they consider it an inherent genetic defect.

One reason might be that the Dallas City Hall staff now feigning concern for sick black kids is the same crew responsible for actively pressing racist zoning and land use planning in black and brown neighborhoods, like their predecessors before them.

It was only last March when they were recommending approval for those two new batch plants in Joppa. Only last February when they recommended the Ash Grove Cement Silo in West Dallas. Before that they approved the move of the Argos batch plant from trendy Trinity Groves to a location next to a school in West Dallas.

Why do black kids have higher asthma rates in Dallas? Perhaps because the City of Dallas has designed it that way for over a century.

There is not a single note of contrition about this contradiction in the TNC or staff’s presentation on its Breathe Easy project. No “we’re sorry for putting people and polluters way too close in minority neighborhoods.” No “we’re going to do better from here on out – not just with these studies, but with actual policy.” No change in behavior, or even why there might need to be one, is ever discussed.

Those supporting the Breathe Easy study – or any other collaboration with the the Office of Environmental Quality and Rockefeller Sustainability –  should understand they’re aligning themselves with a bureaucracy that’s been at the forefront of making the pollution problems in Joppa and West Dallas worse.  And now the same bureaucracy wants to “study” the problem they helped make by testing out three piecemeal approaches to reducing exposure, rather than looking at how institutional changes could bring more fundamental and lasting solutions.

In the end, a year of intervention strategies at your school does little lasting good if you walk home through a polluted neighborhood whose industries have been given a blank check by city staff.

We know reducing exposure to PM pollution improves your health. Lots and lots of studies show that.

We know which specific strategies work to reduce PM pollution. Buffer zones, vegetation screens, inside air filters, pollution controls, electrification of vehicles – all of these have been examined by researchers and found to reduce PM pollution levels. Even the Nature Conservancy cites the empirical success of tree planting in reducing pollution based on a past study.  We don’t need a new study to tell us these strategies are effective. We need more money to implement them.

What the Breath Easy study seems to want to acquire is a new number – A, B and C intervention strategies reduce student asthma attacks/absenteeism by X, Y and Z amounts.

But can that be a meaningful, scientifically-robust number now that you only have an abbreviated baseline that excludes summer? Can it be meaningful if you only spend a year testing intervention strategies, including growing vegetation screens? Even applying copious amounts of Miracle Gro, your trees are not going to get that tall in 12 months.

Using all of TNC’s own data, a convincing case can be made that the $300,000 + being spent on this study could have been better spent on buying trees for those nine schools and installing them as PM screens. But that would have just reduced PM pollution. It wouldn’t have produced a study for the Rockefeller Foundation.

A dense regional Network of air monitors will begin to expose the deep disparities in pollution burdens in Dallas and elsewhere. It’ll provide a map to black and brown neighborhoods they don’t have now, providing further evidence that what you breathe in Dallas depends on where you live in Dallas. There’s plenty of indications this is the real disparity that Dallas City Hall staff are concerned with – even more than higher rates of black childhood asthma. 

The curtains are about to part and provide a much clearer picture of how Dallas’ institutional racism has poisoned its own residents. It behooves everyone who calls themselves an environmentalist in Dallas in 2018 to commit to changing that picture, not just studying it.

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GIVING DAY PAYS FOR COMMUNITY ORGANIZING

by jim on September 21, 2018

After almost 30 years of illegally dirty air, Downwinders at Risk still employs the only full time staffer devoted exclusively to DFW air pollution problems.

And they do it with your contributions.

 

CLICK HERE
TO SECURELY CONTRIBUTE TO DOWNWINDERS


 

 

What Your

Giving Day Contribution Pays For:

 

Community Organizing in Joppa

 

From its founding Downwinders has fashioned itself as a grassroots group employing basic community organizing principles.

This makes us different than most other green groups, who see themselves advocating for causes. We advocate on behalf of people in neighborhoods and towns who are getting shat on by industry, elected officials, bureaucracies, or all of the above.

The latest example is in Joppa, Dallas oldest Freedman’s township.

Surrounded on three sides by heavy industry and freeways, and on the fourth by a landfill and the Trinity River, Joppa is a small neighborhood that looms large in Dallas history. It’s where “South Dallas” began.

It also encapsulates over 100 years of institutionalized environmental racism in less than three square miles. 

We were invited by Joppa residents to use our new portable PM monitors to sample their air prior to the March City Council vote on two new batch plants. That sampling helped defeat those batch plants.But instead of continuing to play “whack-a-mole” with industrial facilities that keep popping up in Joppa, we proposed a sustained effort to start undoing the environmental racism that brings them to that community in the first place. We wanted to address the underlying problem, not just the symptoms.

Residents and their supporters hammered out the idea of an“Environmental Preservation District” that would systematically address each of the environmental threats identified by the community, including buffer zones, new pollution controls on local industry, and continuous air monitoring.

And so this coming Monday evening Downwinders will be hosting the first meeting of the “Let Joppa Breathe” Alliance, a new network designed to help press the agenda of the Joppa Freedman’s Township Association citywide and win structural changes.

This isn’t going to be a short fight. It’ll take years. It’ll take a lot of focused energy. It’ll take a lot of people. But the goal of being able to use a reborn Joppa as a model of how to undo environmental racism in other parts of the City is worth it.

No other green group in DFW has the resources or the mandate to carry out this kind of long-term community organizing campaign. With you contributions, we’ve been doing them for almost 25 years.

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GIVING DAY PAYS FOR INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

by jim on September 20, 2018

We don’t have an home office
in Austin, or Washington, or NYC.

Our only office is right here in DFW.

We  don’t have a national agenda.

We have local agendas that have national impacts.

 

 

CLICK HERE
TO SECURELY CONTRIBUTE TO DOWNWINDERS

 


What Your Giving Day Contribution Pays For

 

Institutional Change:

 

Creation of the North Texas Clean Air Network

For almost two years Downwinders has been working with local government officials and area university scientists to create a better, faster, denser, and more useful air monitoring network for DFW than the one the state and EPA currently operate.
That network, called the North Texas Clean Air Network, has been endorsed by the City of Plano and Dallas County. This coming Monday the 24th, a Dallas City Council Committee will vote on whether Big D should join as well.
Building this alternative to the status quo involved lots of moving parts. Technical and political. It meant we had to sit down and draft founding legal documents, get the language vetted by city and county lawyers, and the make sure we had the technical chops to deliver.

But we also wanted to make sure it would be a tool for citizen empowerment, so we insisted on having public and public health advocate seats on the board overseeing the new network.

Each governing entity joining the network appoints a staff person or elected official. But they also appoint a public representative as well.

Because it wasn’t enough just to win a new network. We also wanted to win a new system of decision-making about air monitoring.  A system that was more responsive to citizens because it put them at the table instead of in the audience.
If there’s one critical difference between Downwinders and most other green groups, it’s that we know process is as important as policy. You can improve policy, but the really lasting changes occur when you also change the process itself. When you commit institutional change on behalf of citizens. 

This new independent network will eventually supersede the obsolete system currently run by the state and federal government. It’ll become the default way DFW residents check their air. It’ll bring challenges and changes to environmental enforcement, zoning and land use planning, and even the timing of traffic lights. It gives citizens and local governments a powerful new tool.

It’s the only project of its kind in Texas.

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GIVING DAY PAYS FOR CITIZEN SCIENCE

by jim on September 20, 2018

 

Downwinders is a entirely local group,

run by board members who live in DFW,

and funded by local contributions. Like yours.

 

 

CLICK HERE
TO SECURELY CONTRIBUTE TO DOWNWINDERS. THANKS

 

What Your Contribution Pays For:

Citizen Science

In the past 18 months, Downwinders at Risk has become the leading sponsor of environmental Citizen Science projects in DFW. Your Giving Day contribution today will help us pay for the following:

        The Wise County Ozone Project

Wise County was the only one of 10 DFW “non-attainment” counties that didn’t have an ozone monitor. EPA and the state don’t want to put one there because those agencies are afraid it might show levels of smog higher than anywhere else in DFW, as some of the state’s own modeling predicts.
In 2017, Downwinders bought two new portable ozone monitors @ $5000 a piece.  UNT Graduate student Kari Northiem built a solar-powered portable ozone monitoring station (ATLAS) so we could deploy them anywhere in Wise County. This July they were installed on site and now a non-profit clean air group is performing the air quality monitoring duties of the state and federal government – all for about $13- $14,000 dollars.
This is the purest piece of citizen science we’re committed to. We’re not sure what we’ll find. But we’re not afraid to take on a basic job government is supposed to be doing.
This is the only project of its kind in Texas.

Portable Monitors: Training and Lending Library

Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen on a monitoring run in Joppa

Earlier this year we bought two portable Particulate Matter (PM) monitors that had just come onto the market from a

New Zealand company, Aeroqual. Calibrated at the factory, these monitors were better than anything else on the market for the price – $1600 each.

Shortly after taking delivery, Joppa residents asked us to bring them to that neighborhood to sample what the air they were breathing was like even before two proposed new batch plants opened there. Our monitors recorded levels of PM pollution much higher than those found at the only official PM monitor in Dallas County hosts, nine miles away – the same monitor city staff was trying to use to say how clean Joppa air was. Our results sealed the defeat the new Joppa batch plants.

With the help of the Dallas Sierra Club and others contributing to the May 22nd Joppa benefit, we were able to buy a third Portable PM Monitor for use exclusively in Joppa, where it now resides 24/7. This December we’ve budgeted to buy two more, giving us a total of five by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, EPA and Areoqual established a national partnership for air quality monitoring, enhancing the credibility of our monitors and our results.

This Saturday, members of our PM Committee will be hosting free public training sessions on how to use our portable monitors in the field.  When you’ve completed three field trips with our team, we’re giving you the chance to ‘”check-out” the portables for your own use or to further help us research local PM levels at specific sites.

We’re the first Texas group to use portable air monitoring to help win a fight. We’re the first to have our own stash of EPA-calibrated air monitors. And we’re the first to establish a lending library for community monitor use.
This is the only project of its kind in Texas.

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Today is Giving Day…..

by jim on September 20, 2018

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New Study Finds PM in Placentas

by jim on September 19, 2018

Scientists already knew that maternal exposure to PM pollution had the potential to harm fetal development. Studies have documented higher rates of Autism, ADHD and other developmental diseases in close proximity of freeways and other large sources of PM pollution. But until now researches hadn’t actually identified how PM harmed newborns.

According to a study presented last week at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) international congress in Paris, researchers have found the first evidence that particles of air pollution travel through pregnant women’s lungs and lodge directly in their placentas.

Using an optical microscope, they examined the placentas of five non-smoking women who all delivered healthy babies. They found 72 dark particles among 3,500 cells and then used a powerful electron microscope to examine the shape of some of the particles. They looked like the sooty particles found in macrophages in the lung.

One of the study’s authors, Dr Lisa Miyashita of Queen Mary University of London, ruled out almost any other substance, “We can’t think of anything else they could be. It is very evident to us they are black sooty particles.” Dr Norrice Liu, also at Queen Mary University of London and part of the team stated,  “We also know that the particles do not need to get into the baby’s body to have an adverse effect, because if they have an effect on the placenta, this will have a direct impact on the foetus.”

Almost every effort examining the health effects from PM pollution over the last decade have all concluded there’s no level of exposure that’s not capable of leaving some harm behind. What this new study indicates is that many of us may already be harmed by exposure even before we’re born and that may make additional exposure that much more harmful.

Just this past month two new reports were published that linked PM pollution to significant IQ loss and diabetes.

In separate research, also presented at the Paris congress, researchers found that children with early onset and persistent asthma fared far less well in education than those without the condition.

The study, conducted over 20 years in Sweden, showed that children with asthma were three and half times more likely to leave school at the age of 16 with only basic education and were also twice as likely to drop out of university courses

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